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Trends in Harvard’s Hiring and Promotion of Women and Minority Faculty

2.8.17


With a possibly contentious debate over the College’s current policy sanctioning student members of unrecognized single-gender social organizations averted, the main focus of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) on February 7 was a report on the hiring and promotion of women and minority faculty members. Those attending the meeting also heard reports on the status of the biomedical engineering degree, and discussed a proposal for an 18-month master’s program in data science, mirroring similar efforts to establish data science tracks at the schools of medicine and public health. But first, against the backdrop of an “evolving political and policy environment,” as President Drew Faust called it, she described her trip to Washington, D.C., in January to meet with the majority and minority leaders of the Senate, as well as other members of Congress. The three principal concerns addressed in those meetings were advocacy for research funding, defense of the endowment from taxation or other limitations on its use, and support for members of the University community made vulnerable by their immigration status or country of origin. 

The University has joined in filing an amicus brief for a federal lawsuit against the White House’s recent executive order banning travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries, and Faust noted that she, along with 47 other university presidents, had signed a letter to President Trump making the case against the ban. Campus leaders, she said, have worked “to reach out with information and support to affected members of our community”: town-hall meetings have drawn more than 900 people; a new attorney has been hired at Harvard Law School’s immigration and refugee clinic to enhance services there; and the Harvard International Office has added additional support to meet faculty, student, and staff needs and requests; a search for a Muslim chaplain is also under way; training sessions for faculty and staff working with affected students have taken place; and a new website for communicating the latest information and understanding has been launched. Under the circumstances, said Faust, “we find ourselves needing to be nimble and it is hard for me to say what we will do next,” but she assured the faculty that “we are mobilizing” to “support every member of this community” as well as the “fundamental values that lie at the heart of our openness and our belief in the importance of having a world in which people can learn from one another in spite of their origins or beliefs.”  

In response to a question from Kenan professor of government Harvey Mansfield, who cited a November 11 Crimson editorial about Harvard’s lack of ideological diversity, Faust also affirmed the University’s commitment to diversity of the political kind. She noted that the inclusion of varying viewpoints is among the mandates of a task force on diversity, inclusion, and belonging that she established last fall. “Diversity of political understanding,” she said, is important because “this needs to be a campus in which one’s ideas can be tested…and they are not tested unless they can be…opposed, debated, and put through the kind of rigorous examination that I know all our faculty feel are the basis of their scholarship.” 

With that, the meeting turned to faculty diversity. Dean for faculty affairs and planning Nina Zipser began by noting that FAS faculty ranks currently include 29 percent women and 21 percent minorities. In recent years, she reported, offers of faculty positions had neared gender parity, except in the 2015-2016 academic year, when 38 percent of offers went to women and 62 percent to men. Expressing the hope that this was nothing more than “a statistical anomaly,” she urged continued vigilance in hiring practices. 

Among minorities, a “healthy increase in the number of Asian faculty” has not been matched among underrepresented minorities (grouped as Black and African American or Hispanic, using definitions from the U.S. Department of Labor), where the numbers have plateaued. Zipser encouraged more “work on the pipeline in general,” praising faculty members “who are putting efforts into high-school programming, undergraduate research, and other initiatives to aid minority students,” in order to create the most diverse and deep hiring pools possible in the future. 

Moving from the subject of hiring to promotion from within, she reported that overall, a smaller fraction of tenure-track women than men stand for promotion—but among all candidates who do stand, rates of promotion from assistant to associate professor are nearly identical when compared by gender. Zipser has addressed the retention problem among female faculty members previously. “Female tenure-track faculty within the FAS,” she said, “are less satisfied with being faculty members than any other faculty group at Harvard.” She pointed to lack of mentoring on work-life balance, and the fact that women feel they are doing more service because administrators “are constantly asking for there to be a woman on a committee, which is probably something we should rethink.” Women and minority faculty also perceive that they mentor more of the struggling graduate students, she added, and women feel that male colleagues often have better deals with respect to parental teaching relief. 

A policy that grants new faculty parents an automatic year-long extension on their tenure clock is working well, Zipser reported. (Data on granting teaching relief to a new parent, a policy with similar aims, is not available because this has not been tracked historically.) The policy is successful, she said, in the sense that rates of promotion to tenure for women who have children are similar to rates for men and women who don’t have children. “However, men do seem to be advantaged by the extension policy,” she noted. The policies are intended for those who need them, she said. “We don’t want to discriminate against men, we don’t want to discriminate against same-sex couples…but we do want to watch out for misuse of these policies.”

In response to a question from Mansfield about gender parity as a goal, Zipser assured the faculty that this did not imply the existence of quotas. On the contrary, she said, behind the comparisons in rates of hiring are comparisons of the gender or ethnic compositions of the hiring pools themselves, which are becoming more diverse all the time, though more rapidly in some fields than others. “We have no quotas,” she explained, “but there is no reason to believe that talent is not evenly dispersed among the peoples of the world, no matter what their demographics are.” 

Another question, posed by vice president for international affairs Mark C. Elliott, concerned the way in which international faculty are counted, at least from some parts of the world. This was especially relevant in light of the plateau (noted earlier) in the ranks of underrepresented minorities, and the potential impact of federal travel policies on recruitment of faculty from outside the United States. Zipser replied that, because the University seeks permanent-resident status as soon as possible for new hires from abroad, a black faculty member originally from Africa, for example, is counted in the “Black and African American” category. The chilling effect of a travel ban, Elliott pointed out, could make hiring and retention of faculty from abroad more challenging. Knowing how many faculty members originally come from overseas, he noted, might perhaps be relevant to President Faust on her trips to Washington.

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