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|Professor Charles Nesson is shining a bright light on Harvard's secretive tenure process. Martha Stewart|
What began as a minor skirmish over a junior faculty member's failed tenure bid has evolved into a long-term siege, pitting Harvard law professor Charles Nesson '60, LL.B. '63, and his students (read David) against the University's tenure process itself (read Goliath, in this case apotheosized in the form of President Neil L. Rudenstine). Nesson is acting as legal adviser to political theorist Peter Berkowitz, an associate professor in the government department, which approved him for tenure last year. Rudenstine, after soliciting letters from senior faculty in the department and after reviewing the findings of an ad hoc committee, denied him tenure.
Berkowitz, who has meanwhile accepted a one-year extension of his current appointment, feels that the ad hoc committee was stacked against him, alleging that five of its six members were antipathetic to his published views. Nesson examined the case as part of his winter evidence class; he hired private investigator Terry Lenzner '61, LL. B. '64, to seek out confidential documents and reveal the membership of the normally secret ad hoc committee. This Lenzner has done. Nesson has published the results on the course's website at "http://cyber.harvard.edu/eon/evidence". "Information about members of Berkowitz's ad hoc committee continues to trickle in," he reports.
Nesson "hopes to see a fair process offered to Peter and to see a way for the University to reconsider." But his investigation of the tenure process won't end there. He plans to look at how other universities handle the tenure process, noting that "Harvard is unusual in the way it concentrates the power in one person." Nesson says that the "present [tenure] system breeds hypocrisy and distrust," and has called for a new system based on "openness and feedback." He says he plans to investigate future Harvard ad hoc committees, ensuring that, at the very least, the process will never be quite so secret again.
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