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Half of Surveyed Harvard Faculty Say Their Pay Is Too Low

By Rahem D. Hamid and Elias J. Schisgall, Crimson Staff Writers

A majority of Harvard faculty respondents — approximately 51 percent — who filled out The Crimson’s annual survey of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences believe that their compensation is either “too low” or “far too low.”

The plurality of faculty respondents — around 31 percent — said they make between $121,000 and $250,000 annually. Just under 12 percent said they make over $250,000.

Faculty respondents not on the tenure track were more dissatisfied with their pay than ladder faculty. Approximately 68 percent of non-tenure-track faculty respondents said their pay was too low, while about 32 percent said it was fair — numbers consistent with last year’s survey.

About 61 percent of ladder faculty who filled out the survey said their salary was fair, while just under 35 percent said it was too low. About 4 percent of ladder respondents said they felt they were overpaid.

The Crimson distributed its survey to more than 1,300 members of the FAS and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, including tenured and tenure-track professors — known collectively as ladder faculty — as well as non-tenure-track lecturers and preceptors. The survey collected demographic information and opinions on a range of topics, including Harvard’s academic atmosphere, life as a professor, and political issues.

The anonymous 124-question survey received 386 responses, including 234 fully-completed responses and 152 partially-completed responses. It was open to new responses between March 23 and April 14. Responses were not adjusted for selection bias.

The first installment of The Crimson’s faculty survey covered respondents’ views on the controversy surrounding accusations of harassment against professor John L. Comaroff and Harvard’s Title IX policies. The second installment concerned respondents’ opinions on top Harvard administrators including outgoing University President Lawrence S. Bacow and incoming president Claudine Gay. The third installment focused on respondents’ political views on a variety of issues, including academic freedom, race-conscious admissions policies, the Israel-Palestine conflict, and more.

This fourth installment looks at faculty respondents’ opinions on compensation, unionization campaigns across campus, issues of tenure, and FAS culture.

FAS spokesperson Anna G. Cowenhoven declined to comment.

Ladder vs. Non-Ladder Faculty Support

The Crimson’s survey results found that faculty respondents perceived a sharp divide in administrative support from the FAS for ladder and non-ladder faculty.

Nearly 57 percent of respondents said they believed that the FAS provided enough support for ladder faculty in their department, but only around 27 percent of respondents felt that FAS provided enough support for non-ladder faculty in their department.

Of respondents who themselves were non-ladder faculty, more than 71 percent said they felt the FAS does not provide enough support for them and their non-ladder colleagues.

In a free-response question, several respondents elaborated on inequities between ladder and non-ladder faculty.

“There is a very big split between ladder and non-ladder faculty in the department. For example, we have many preceptors that are not allowed to attend faculty meetings and they feel very excluded from the life of the department, as many decisions even about the courses that they teach or times when they teach are made without them,” one faculty member wrote.

Campus Unionization

This year, Harvard saw the launch of two major unionization campaigns — the Harvard Undergraduate Workers Union and the Harvard Academic Workers-United Automobile Workers for non-tenure-track faculty.

More than half — approximately 52 percent — of surveyed faculty said they support the unionization of Harvard undergraduate student workers. Non-ladder faculty respondents supported the unionization efforts more than ladder faculty: Approximately 36 percent of ladder faculty supported the effort, compared to approximately 68 percent of non-ladder faculty.

The HAW-UAW campaign saw greater support, with more than 67 percent of faculty respondents reporting they support the non-tenure-track faculty unionization campaign, compared to just around 16 percent who oppose it. More than 82 percent of non-ladder faculty surveyed approve of the effort, compared to more than 52 percent of ladder faculty.

In a free-response question allowing respondents to expand on their answers, several respondents supported the idea of a union but were skeptical about its efficacy.

“I support the right of workers to organize; I don’t believe, however, that unionizing will solve the issues that truly concern the NTT faculty, namely the effects of a collapsing academic job market,” one faculty member wrote.

Another respondent wrote, “I support unionization as a concept, but believe that the currently-proposed HAW-UAW union would represent me worse than having no union.”

HAW-UAW did not reply to requests for comment.

Members of Harvard’s graduate student union — the Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Auto Workers — have long called for a third-party grievance procedure for sexual harassment and discrimination complaints. Around 53 percent of surveyed respondents believe that the University should allow members of HGSU-UAW to go through such a procedure. Just under 26 percent of respondents disagree.

Tenure

Tenure at the University has attracted scrutiny over the past years, including outcry after Romance Languages and Literatures professor Lorgia García Peña was denied tenure in 2019 and African and African American Studies professor Cornel R. West ’73 departed Harvard for a second time in 2021 after the school did not consider him for tenure.

Though tenure can be revoked by the Harvard Corporation, the school’s highest governing body, this step has rarely — if ever — been taken, even as high-profile professors have weathered allegations and findings of sexual misconduct against students in recent years.

More than half of respondents — approximately 56 percent — said that they do not think tenure should be easier to revoke, compared to 25 percent of those who say it should. Views differ greatly between ladder and non-ladder faculty: Approximately 39 percent of non-ladder respondents believe it should be easier to revoke, compared to just around 12 percent of ladder faculty.

Nearly 78 percent of respondents said they believe their voice was adequately represented in tenure discussions in their department. While just under a third of respondents said they believed someone from their department was unjustly denied tenure, a plurality of survey faculty — approximately 41 percent — said they neither agree nor disagree with the sentiment.

At Harvard, the decision to grant tenure ends with a confidential ad hoc committee. Approximately 39 percent of survey respondents agree that the committees are appropriate, compared to approximately 32 percent who disagree.

Harvard, like many American universities, has four general ladder faculty ranks: assistant, associate, full, and University. Harvard grants tenure at the full professor level, unlike many other universities where tenure is granted at the associate professor level. Nearly 47 percent of survey respondents believe the University should not grant tenure at the associate level, compared to nearly 29 percent who believe it should.

In an open-response question asking for respondents to give feedback on the tenure review process, several respondents called for increased transparency and explanations for candidates denied tenure.

Other respondents took issue with the institution of tenure itself, with one respondent writing that it “is an outdated and elitist system within higher education that has persisted because those in power benefit from it” and another writing that it “is an archaic system that should be abolished [altogether].”

Still, some respondents affirmed the importance of tenure, with some connecting it to issues of academic freedom.

“Tenure is important in order that faculty can voice opinions freely. As a non-tenured faculty, I can not voice my opinion freely,” one faculty member wrote.

Another wrote that “the ad hoc [committee] is garbage, but tenure is essential to defending academic values against a corporate university leadership.”

FAS Culture

In an open-response question asking respondents about specific aspects of their department or division they wished to see changed, many faculty objected to overly hierarchical administrative structures.

“Our department is very stratified and segregated into groups according to our roles. There needs to be more intentional actions to communicate across staff and faculty roles, so the department doesn’t feel so hierarchical,” one faculty member wrote.

Another wrote that “Hierarchy Harvard” is made up of “gatekeepers and privilege hagglers.”

“How come Canadian and European universities can do without much of that crap?” they wrote.

Just over 32 percent of surveyed faculty said they were satisfied with the gender diversity within the faculty, compared to the approximately 48 percent who were dissatisfied.

Nearly 61 percent of respondents said they were dissatisfied with the level of racial and ethnic diversity within the faculty, and approximately 55 percent of respondents said they were dissatisfied with the level of socioeconomic diversity within the faculty.

Additionally, more than 45 percent of respondents said they would recommend a life in academia to their students, compared to approximately 33 percent who said they would not.

Methodology

The Crimson’s annual faculty survey for 2023 was conducted via Qualtrics, an online survey platform. The survey was open from March 23, 2023, to April 14, 2023.

A link to the anonymous survey was sent to 1,310 FAS and SEAS faculty members through emails sourced in February 2021 from Harvard directory information and updated in subsequent years. The pool included individuals on Harvard’s Connections database with FAS affiliations, including tenured, tenure-track, and non-tenure-track faculty.

In total, 386 faculty replied, with 234 filling the survey completely and 152 partially completing the survey.

To check for response bias, The Crimson compared respondents’ self-reported demographic data with publicly available data on FAS faculty demographics for the 2021-22 academic year. Survey respondents’ demographic data generally match these publicly available data.

In The Crimson’s survey, 47 percent of respondents identified themselves as male and 45 percent as female, with 2 percent selecting “genderqueer/non-binary,” 1 percent for “other,” and 5 percent for “prefer not to say.” According to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ 2022 Report, 39 percent of FAS faculty as a whole are female.

53 percent of respondents to The Crimson’s survey were tenured or tenure-track faculty and 47 percent were non-tenure-track faculty. According to the FAS data, 58 percent of faculty are tenure-track and 38 percent are non-tenure-track.

31 percent of survey respondents reported their ethnic or racial background as something other than white or Caucasian, with 9 percent opting not to report their race. According to the FAS data, 27 percent of faculty are non-white.

—Staff writer Rahem D. Hamid can be reached at rahem.hamid@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Elias J. Schisgall can be reached at elias.schisgall@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @eschisgall.

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