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One Third of Surveyed Harvard Faculty Believe A Colleague in Their Department Was Unjustly Denied Tenure

The third installment of The Crimson's 2022 faculty survey examines attitudes toward tenure, recent changes to the tenure-track review process, and the livelihoods of non-tenure-track faculty.
The third installment of The Crimson's 2022 faculty survey examines attitudes toward tenure, recent changes to the tenure-track review process, and the livelihoods of non-tenure-track faculty. By Thomas Maisonneuve
By Ariel H. Kim and Meimei Xu, Crimson Staff Writers

Around one third of respondents to The Crimson’s annual survey of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences reported that they believe at least one colleague in their department has been unjustly denied tenure.

Just over 33 percent of respondents indicated that they somewhat or strongly agree that someone in their department was unfairly rejected in Harvard’s tenure process — a number on par with last year.

Slightly fewer respondents — just under 28 percent — indicated that they strongly or somewhat disagree that at least one colleague in their department was unjustly denied tenure. A plurality of respondents — nearly 39 percent — said they neither agree nor disagree.

The Crimson distributed its survey to more than 1,100 members of the FAS and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, polling tenured, tenure-track, and non-tenure track faculty on their demographics, academic life, and viewpoints on various issues, including Harvard governance.

The 111-question survey garnered 476 responses, including 333 that were complete and 143 that were partially filled out. The anonymous survey, a link to which was emailed to nearly every member of the FAS, was open from April 11 to 26. The Crimson did not adjust the data for possible selection bias.

The first installment of The Crimson’s 2022 faculty survey explored views on sexual harassment at Harvard, while the second installment examined how faculty view Harvard’s Covid-19 response. This third installment examines attitudes toward tenure, recent changes to the tenure-track review process, and the livelihoods of non-tenure-track faculty.

Tenure Review

An FAS committee that reviewed Harvard’s tenure processes published a report last October that concluded the school’s system is “structurally sound,” but noted that ladder faculty feel a “lack of trust in” and “low morale” about the process.

In March, FAS Dean Claudine Gay sent the faculty a plan outlining how administrators will implement recommendations in the report.

Asked about the proportion of faculty members who feel a colleague has been unjustly denied tenure, Gay said in an interview last month the FAS’ Tenure-Track Review Committee has worked to make the tenure process more transparent and balanced.

“We want to ensure that the tenure track faculty that we recruit to Harvard are well supported in their work, have clear expectations about their role, are mentored properly, and that at critical moments of review — whether at the level of the associate review or the tenure review — we bring all of the information that we need to bear in order to develop a very comprehensive and balanced view of the teaching, research, and service record of our colleagues,” she said.

More than half of survey respondents were ambivalent about the changes to the tenure process, reporting that they neither support nor oppose the modifications. On the contrary, just over 39 percent of respondents indicated they either strongly or somewhat support the changes, while less than 10 percent indicated they either strongly or somewhat oppose them.

More ladder faculty supported the tenure process changes than did non-ladder faculty. Over 58 percent of ladder faculty respondents indicated they either strongly or somewhat support the changes, while 18 percent of non-ladder faculty respondents indicated support. Nearly three-quarters of non-ladder faculty respondents indicated they neither support nor oppose the changes to the tenure review process.

Though many other universities grant tenure at the associate professor level, Harvard grants tenure only at the full professor level. Just over 34 percent of respondents indicated they strongly or somewhat agree with Harvard’s practice, while about 39 percent said they strongly or somewhat disagree, and 27 percent indicated they neither agree nor disagree.

In the May interview, Gay said she encourages people with concerns about Harvard’s practice to read the Tenure-Track Review Committee’s report, which recommended maintaining the current tenure timeline and granting tenure only at the full professor rank.

Survey respondents were also divided over Harvard’s use of confidential ad hoc committees convened by the University president or provost that help make a final decision in a tenure case.

Just over 33 percent of respondents indicated they strongly or somewhat agree with the use of ad hoc committees, while 35 percent indicated they strongly or somewhat disagree.

Responding to an open-ended question asking for feedback on changes made to the FAS’ tenure review process, many faculty wrote that the process should be made more transparent. Some also wrote that it was disappointing the new implementation plan did not address concerns regarding ad hoc committees.

One faculty member wrote that “the ad hoc process remains a mystery and a source of stress.”

Gay said the implementation plan for the Tenure-Track Review Committee’s recommendations seeks to give department chairs more information on the ad hoc committees and the Committee on Appointments and Promotions, which advises the FAS dean on whether to forward a case to the University president.

“One of the things that we’re doing as part of our implementation is creating more opportunities for feedback — in particular to department chairs after both the CAP discussion and ad hoc final decision — that we hope will provide department chairs with more information that they can use to prepare future cases for review,” she said.

Ladder and Non-Ladder Faculty

Among the 476 respondents to The Crimson’s survey, 198 faculty respondents in the FAS identified themselves as non-ladder faculty — who will never be considered for tenure at Harvard. Non-tenure-track faculty include lecturers, senior lecturers, preceptors, senior preceptors, professors of the practice, and visiting scholars.

Nearly 70 percent of non-ladder faculty respondents said they either strongly or somewhat disagree that the FAS provides enough support for non-tenure-track faculty in their department.

Just 20 percent of non-ladder faculty said they either strongly or somewhat agree that the FAS provides enough support for non-tenure-track faculty in their department.

While most non-ladder respondents said they have not received adequate support from the FAS, most ladder respondents feel supported by the school. Nearly 65 percent of ladder faculty somewhat or strongly agree the FAS provides enough support for tenured or tenure-track faculty in their department.

In addition, more than 66 percent of non-ladder faculty reported feeling their compensation is “too low” or “far too low,” while just less than 31 percent of ladder faculty reported the same.

Non-tenure-track faculty — who have time-capped appointments — have long raised concerns about job insecurity. Preceptor appointments last eight years, while most lecturer appointments last three.

Gay said non-ladder faculty play “a very important role” in fulfilling Harvard’s “teaching mission,” referring to multiple reviews the FAS has conducted of non-ladder appointments. The most recent one affirmed the time-cap system for preceptors.

In response to an open-ended question asking whether there were specific aspects of their department that need to change, some respondents said time caps for non-ladder faculty appointments created anxiety around employment.

“Anxious teachers and colleagues take away from a flourishing work culture,” one respondent wrote.

Methodology

For its 2022 Faculty Survey, The Crimson collected electronic responses through Qualtrics, an online survey platform, from April 11 to 26, 2022. A link to the anonymous survey was sent to 1,182 FAS and SEAS faculty members through emails sourced in March 2022 from Harvard directory information. The pool included individuals on Harvard’s Connections database with FAS affiliations, including tenured, tenure-track, and non-tenure track faculty.

Of those faculty, 492 faculty members accessed the link, and 476 participants answered at least one question. A total of 333 participants fully completed the survey.

To check for potential response bias, The Crimson compared respondent demographics with publicly available information on faculty demographics provided by the University — information regarding gender, race and ethnicity, SEAS affiliation, and ladder versus non-ladder status. Overall, the respondents to the survey were in line with the demographics of the broader faculty.

Of survey respondents, 42 percent identified themselves as women, and 25 percent identified themselves as faculty of color. Based on data in the 2021 FAS Dean’s Annual Report, women and faculty of color make up 39 and 26 percent of FAS faculty, respectively.

According to the report, 42 percent of the FAS are senior non-ladder, non-ladder, or visiting faculty. Among the respondents to The Crimson’s faculty survey, 49 percent indicated that they are non-ladder faculty.

Of faculty who were sent the link to the survey, 140 — or 12 percent — are affiliated with SEAS. In comparison, of respondents who indicated their divisional affiliation on the survey, 7 percent reported an affiliation with SEAS.

—Staff writer Ariel H. Kim can be reached at ariel.kim@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @ArielH_Kim.

—Staff writer Meimei Xu can be reached at meimei.xu@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @MeimeiXu7.

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