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Facing the challenges of tomorrow (page 2)

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Facing the challenges of tomorrow
Jeremy R. Knowles, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences

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The Faculty

At a time when we are aiming to increase the size of the Faculty, it is worth a look at recent history. A plot (see the Figure) of the number of professors in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences since 1950 shows that the Faculty has remained remarkably constant since about 1970, the only change being a shift of about 40 from the non-tenured ranks to the tenured ranks in the last decade. Over the past 50 years there has only been one sharp rise, and I’m tempted to suggest that this dramatic increase during the era of President Pusey was made possible only by the unusual amount of new construction that occurred in his time. William James Hall, the Carpenter Center, Conant, McKay, the Herbaria, High Energy Physics, Hoffman, MCZ laboratories, Engineering Science, Holyoke Center, and the Science Center all rose in those years, and – directly or indirectly – provided the homes for the new faculty and their students. Today, we are close to saturation, and there are a few departments that are already constrained not by the number of available faculty positions but by the absence of acceptable space for new colleagues.

Recruitment. Other than the space problem, what are the barriers to increasing the size of the Faculty? At both the senior and the junior level, the sequence of search and authorization is often quite drawn out, and the subsequent courtship is not always successful. The faculty effort that goes into a search can be high, and this effort is frustrated when the offer is not accepted. Gone are the days when Harvard merely decided, and beckoned. When President Eliot made up his mind that he wanted to bring Henry Adams here to teach medieval history, he is said to have called Adams in and offered him the job. “But Mr. President,” Adams said, “I know nothing about medieval history.” Eliot replied: “If you will point out anyone who knows more, Mr. Adams, I will appoint him.” Twenty-four hours later, Adams was a member of the Faculty.1

What is our record for senior offers over the past five years? On average, we have made 28 tenure offers each year, of which nineteen have been accepted. This success rate (of 68 percent) is only slightly higher than that for the previous decade, despite an increasing number of internal promotions (which now average about eight a year). The latter tend to be more successful, of course, since the colleague is already settled here. The proportions of all senior offers that are made to our junior colleagues are strikingly (but perhaps unsurprisingly) different across the divisions: in the Humanities, 16 percent; in the Social Sciences, 20 percent; and in the Natural Sciences, 38 percent. (Incidentally, I should note that 26 percent of all senior faculty appointments in the past decade have come by promotion from within. I do not expect that this evident change in our habits will enter the universal consciousness for several decades, but it is a fact that we should mention when the opportunity presents.)

What actions can we take to ameliorate the appointment process? First, I aim to involve the Office for Academic Affairs (led by Dean Vince Tompkins) earlier in the search process, to help with the timing of departmental discussions, candidate visits, blind letters, and dossier presentation. As I said last year, we may need to change our habit of proposing only one candidate at a time, we may want to encourage multiple searches in particular areas, we may need to authorize more searches than the available positions would seem to permit, we may want to encourage departments to move away from narrow field-defined searches, and we must always be prepared to grasp the opportunity to make a particularly exciting appointment. Second, I have established the Office for Faculty Development (led by Dean Laura Fisher) that will more effectively coordinate with departments in the recruitment of both senior and junior colleagues once the offer has been authorized. It is time that the habits and methods of relatively more successful departments are shared broadly, so that good ideas that may affect subsequent recruitment (such as the use of the empty faculty position to invite likely candidates to visit us for a term or a year) can be more generally adopted. While I do not believe that the more quantitative aspects of our offers are limiting our success rate, we must be as compelling as we can be in this regard, too. Finally, and particularly in reference to the recent drop in junior hiring illustrated in the Figure, I hope that the more flexible approach that we now take in framing junior offers will result in a rise in the numbers here also.

Women Faculty. Since 1991-92, the number of senior faculty women has increased by 80 percent (from 38 to 69), during which time the senior faculty as a whole has increased by less than 10 percent. Last year was a record, in that nine of our 19 new tenured colleagues are women. While I must curb my pleasure at what might only be a fortunate statistical fluctuation, I am encouraged. Now, nearly 16 percent of our senior faculty are women. In the non-tenured ranks, women continue to occupy about one third of our junior faculty positions.

Last year, I asked a group of five senior colleagues in the Natural Sciences to go out and talk to science department chairs, search committee chairs, and others to see how we could better identify the strongest women candidates, as well as those from under-represented minority groups, at all levels. My sense ‘that mere decanal exhortation is not enough’ has been amply confirmed by the positive response that this group’s attention to the question has elicited. I have therefore asked them to continue, and I intend to establish a parallel group to evaluate and visit the larger departments (at first) in the Social Sciences and the Humanities.

The College, and Undergraduate Education

Having completed his first quinquennium as Dean of Harvard College, Harry Lewis has written a fine report on the changes and the challenges of the past five years. I need not rehearse here the many improvements that have been made (from career counseling to the coordination of health care, from public service activities to the House assignment process, and from programs for women students to the support of the Allston Burr Senior Tutors), but I should mention Dean Lewis’ concerns in two areas: advising, and communication with our students and their families. The quality and depth of student advising (from proctors, freshman advisers, tutors, Masters, deans, faculty, and others) is the focus of attention from several quarters, and we must ensure that the guidance that students receive really helps them to make the most of their time in the College. Analogously, we must be certain that the wide range of printed and Web site information that is available is focused and friendly. These issues (amongst many others, to be sure) will continue to occupy us. The report concludes, appropriately: “Our students are a great resource; they have come through the eye of the needle to arrive at Harvard, and we owe them the best education we can provide.”

Admissions. The cheerful song from the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid continues. Applications to the College rose again for the ninth time in the decade, to 18,691. The percentage of applicants that were admitted, at 11 percent, was the lowest in the College’s history, and the acceptance rate by admitted students, at nearly 80 percent, was again by far the highest among the nation’s selective colleges. Members of the faculty continue to be important participants in the selection and the recruitment processes. No credence should be given to the recent suggestion in an English national newspaper “that Harvard admissions are decided by an elite cabal of Swiss bankers and the CIA.”

Forty-eight percent of undergraduates this year will receive scholarship support, and more than $55 million will be devoted to this purpose. Two thirds of all undergraduates will receive some form of financial help (that is, scholarships, loans, or jobs). For those readers who find such measures useful, almost 2,000 College applicants scored the maximum 800 on their SAT achievement test in English, over 2,500 scored an 800 on their achievement test in Math, and 3,000 were valedictorians of their high school class. Just 2,082 applicants were offered admission.

I remain concerned by the creeping increases in merit awards and athletic scholarships that are offered by some of our competitor institutions. We remain firmly of the view that our admissions process must remain entirely need-blind, and that we shall continue to make it possible for all admitted students to come to Harvard simply on the basis of need. The extraordinarily high quality of the applicant pool would make it improper for us to deviate from these principles.

Curriculum. After some discussion in the Educational Policy Committee and the Core Standing Committee last year, and after a summer of many consultative lunches with members of the faculty, Dean Susan Pedersen introduced the subject of Faculty-led Freshman Seminars to the full Faculty in October. This was followed by the circulation of a paper (written by her and Dean Jeffrey Wolcowitz) that was discussed at the November meeting. In essence, the paper argues that the educational experience of many undergraduates could be markedly improved if they had the opportunity of working closely with a member of the faculty during their freshman year. Aside from the obvious desirability of our students engaging with the faculty on a subject in which they have a particular (or even passionate) interest, the consequence both for academic advising and for exploding the myth that all undergraduate courses are large, is potentially high. It was pointed out that 557 out of last year’s 1,300 undergraduate non-tutorial courses had enrollments of 10 or fewer, and that a redistribution of just 10 percent of these into the freshman year as Freshman Seminars could dramatically change the curricular experience of our students. While such issues as whether Freshman Seminars should receive concentration credit or Core credit remain to be thought through, and while we must be careful not to divert faculty energies from the Core itself, Dean Pedersen was encouraged to embark upon discussions with each department and to explore the feasibility of increasing our freshman seminar offerings. I very much hope that these discussions will be fruitful, and that – as the Faculty increases in number – we shall have concomitantly put in place a curricular improvement that will have lasting benefit. To quote Lowell again: “All true education must be in great part self-education, a personal effort to advance on the difficult path of knowledge, not a half-reluctant transportation through college in perambulators pushed by instructors.” Freshman Seminars will be one more good way to avoid the perambulators.

Space. Uncertainty over the College’s continued use of Agassiz Theater and the Riemann Center for the Performing Arts, and the constant pressure for more rehearsal and performance space for student drama, music, and dance, made us welcome the opportunity to acquire the Hasty Pudding building from the Institute of 1770. A major renovation of the building, including urgent upgrades of its electrical, safety, and other core systems, will begin this summer. The renovated theater will remain the home of the Hasty Pudding Theatricals, but it may also be used for classes, and will certainly be available for other student productions. The rest of the building will house other College and student activity. The restaurant Upstairs at the Pudding will remain until after this year’s Commencement, when the renovation will begin.

Following the completion last year of the Murr Center, and the dedication this year of the Jordan Field and the Beren Tennis Center, an overall space analysis of the Athletics Department is now in progress. A likely outcome of this study will be the renovation of the Malkin Athletic Center following the relocation of the three varsity sports programs that are currently there, and the provision (by inter-flooring) of considerably more space for fitness equipment, and perhaps for offices for the still-burgeoning number of student groups.

Finally, we have instigated a study of the Jordan buildings. These were originally constructed as undergraduate cooperatives, but as the attractiveness of these arrangements has faded, we must see whether they can be renovated to yield more student accommodation that is directly affiliated to a House, which is now at a premium.

Retirements. While I do not normally mention such matters in this letter, two people who have contributed enormously to the richness of student extra-curricular life will retire at the end of this academic year. Myra Mayman created, and then led for nearly three decades, the Office for the Arts. One only needs to sample the activities at the Arts First weekend in May to understand what she has wrought here. Billy Cleary has been Athletics Director since 1990, and he will this year end a splendidly long span of dedication to Harvard athletics and to distinguished amateurism in our intercollegiate activities that began when he was a freshman in the College in 1952. Finding worthy successors to these most generous colleagues will be a challenge.

Next: The Graduate School