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Petition Urging Harvard to Extend Non-Tenure-Track Faculty Appointments Garners More Than 800 Signatures

Several non-tenure-track faculty circulated a petition calling for extra time at Harvard given disruptions caused by the novel coronavirus.
Several non-tenure-track faculty circulated a petition calling for extra time at Harvard given disruptions caused by the novel coronavirus. By Kai R. McNamee
By James S. Bikales and Kevin R. Chen, Crimson Staff Writers

A group of non-tenure-track Harvard faculty distributed a petition Tuesday urging Harvard to extend time caps on their appointments by at least one year due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

More than 800 people — Harvard affiliates as well as outside “community supporters” among them — signed the petition as of Wednesday evening, according to History and Literature lecturer Alex W. Corey. Non-tenure-track faculty from multiple departments worked together to create the petition, which they addressed to University President Lawrence S. Bacow and Provost Alan M. Garber ’76.

The University hires non-tenure-track faculty, such as preceptors and lecturers, with a “time cap” of three, five, or eight years. At the end of this period, Harvard requires the faculty to leave regardless of the quality of their performance.

“The petition is a continuation of the efforts undertaken by a group of non-tenure-track faculty who know the time caps to be counterproductive to Harvard's educational mission--especially in the midst of a pandemic in which continuity and a robust community are central to the student experience,” Corey wrote in an email.

The petition argues that non-tenure-track faculty who are “timing out” this spring may be left without income and health insurance during the pandemic. It also states that non-tenure-track faculty who are not timing out will have “lost valuable months of research and job-seeking.”

Two weeks ago, Harvard extended the appointment contracts and tenure review timelines of many tenure-track faculty by one year due to COVID-19, acknowledging the potential disruption in their ability to conduct research.

The petition argues non-tenure-track faculty should likewise be offered a one-year appointment extension because research is similarly important to their employment prospects. It further argues that Harvard has a “moral responsibility” to offer the extension, because not doing so would put non-tenure-track faculty “at great risk” of job insecurity.

“Non-tenure-track faculty are precariously employed and are thus vulnerable to unemployment, lack of medical insurance or care, and housing insecurity,” the petition reads. “The pandemic makes these difficult conditions all the more frightening and dangerous.”

The petition comes as a growing list of universities, including Brown University and Villanova University, have announced freezes on hiring of faculty and staff due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

In response to the petition, College spokesperson Rachael Dane referred to a statement last week from Dean for Faculty Affairs and Planning Nina Zipser. Zipser wrote in an emailed statement that lecturers and preceptors are “very important” to Harvard’s teaching mission.

“We are deeply grateful to these members of our community for all they are doing, particularly during this unprecedented and challenging time,” Zipser wrote.

—Staff writer James S. Bikales can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jamepdx.

— Staff writer Kevin R. Chen can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @kchenx.

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