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3 Harvard Faculty Divisions Approve Motion to Select Delegates to Design a Faculty Senate

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences, based in University Hall, is among the faculty divisons that voted in favor.
The Faculty of Arts and Sciences, based in University Hall, is among the faculty divisons that voted in favor. By Julian J. Giordano
By Tilly R. Robinson and Neil H. Shah, Crimson Staff Writers

Three Harvard faculties — the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the Graduate School of Design, and Harvard Divinity School — overwhelmingly voted in favor of selecting delegates to a body tasked with designing a University-wide faculty senate.

The votes were a clear stamp of approval from Harvard faculty members on moving toward a faculty senate, which a group of professors has been advocating for since April. The group argues that the University insufficiently engages faculty in decision-making — an issue they believe a faculty body with administrative power could solve.

The three votes come as groups of faculty have gone toe-to-toe with top Harvard administrators and Harvard’s governing boards.

At a May 21 meeting, the FAS voted to confer degrees on 13 seniors who were ineligible to receive their diplomas after they faced disciplinary charges for participating in the pro-Palestine Harvard Yard encampment — a decision that was ultimately reversed by the Harvard Corporation, the University’s highest governing body.

Though the FAS vote was overturned, it represented a striking assertion of faculty authority. But most of Harvard’s faculties don’t typically command that sort of attention, and there is no University-wide channel for faculty to issue collective statements or decisions.

For now, the three faculties’ decisions aren’t binding. The University’s six other faculties are still considering similar resolutions, and they are not expected to decide until the fall. Even if the other six faculties join in backing the planning body, each faculty would also need to vote on actually forming a faculty senate once the planning body proposes a design.

The FAS’ approval was especially significant. Historically, the FAS — Harvard’s central faculty — has served as a sounding board for University administrators and, more recently, the governing boards. The FAS’ support for the planning body signals that it may be open to conceding at least some of its power.

In an electronic vote conducted between May 21 and May 30, 309 members of the FAS voted to approve the motion, while 146 voted against it. The wide margin, announced Monday, indicates broad enthusiasm for the planning process, though it leaves no shortage of dissenters.

FAS Dean Hopi E. Hoekstra wrote in a statement that she believes “it is critically important that faculty governance is strong and vibrant.”

“I am deeply committed to ensuring this continues and is, in fact, strengthened in the FAS,” she added. “I am also committed to seeking ways to bring forward faculty voices and ensure they inform the future direction of the FAS and the University.”

The planning body resolutions were even more popular among faculty at the GSD and HDS.

The GSD passed the motion via an online ballot from May 21 to May 22, in which 24 voted in favor, 5 voted against, and 4 abstained. The GSD has 55 voting members, so the vote had a 60 percent turnout.

GSD Dean Sarah M. Whiting wrote in a statement that it is important that faculty from across the university are in dialogue because “a university is not a collection of isolated individuals,” though she did not endorse a faculty senate in particular.

“It is in that spirit that I welcome a vehicle that enables faculties from across our distributed university to meet and to elevate their collective voice, beyond the formality and added labor of university committees that come with organizing such bodies,” she wrote.

“What came out of a GSD faculty discussion about this topic is a desire to create possibilities for cross-faculty conversation, but a caution against falling into the trap of institutionalizing such possibilities into the bureaucracy that defines many university senates,” Whiting added.

Meanwhile, Divinity School faculty members passed the planning body motion unanimously via a show of hands at a May 20 faculty meeting, according to several attendees. It is unclear how many faculty members attended the meeting.

An HDS spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

University Professor Danielle S. Allen, who has led the faculty senate push, wrote in a statement that she found it “really encouraging” that so many faculty members participated in considering the resolutions.

Dean of Social Science Lawrence D. Bobo, a vocal opponent of the faculty senate proposal, wrote in a statement that though he believes faculty need a greater say in governance, he still believes a faculty senate is not the right path forward.

“It is regrettable that faculty energy and good intentions will be dedicated to this campaign,” he wrote.

Though faculty at the other Harvard schools are still discussing and deliberating on the planning body proposal, Allen said she expects to see similar victories at the other faculties as well.

“Conversations are similarly robust and thoughtful across other schools, and I do think we will see further resolutions,” Allen wrote. “And, of course, with these three schools having now voted for the Senate Planning Body, it means both the largest faculty and two of the smallest all think doing this work toward a potential University-wide Senate is a good idea.”

“Traditionally, the expectation has been that large and small schools would not agree on something like this. That conventional wisdom no longer holds,” she added.

—Staff writer Tilly R. Robinson can be reached at tilly.robinson@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @tillyrobin.

—Staff writer Neil H. Shah can be reached at neil.shah@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @neilhshah15.

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