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Harvard FAS Dean Releases Implementation Plan for Tenure Track Review Recommendations

University Hall, which sits at the center of Harvard Yard, is home to many administrative offices, including the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
University Hall, which sits at the center of Harvard Yard, is home to many administrative offices, including the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. By Aiyana G. White
By Ariel H. Kim and Meimei Xu, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Claudine Gay sent a plan to faculty Tuesday outlining how the FAS will implement recommendations published in October by a committee that examined Harvard’s tenure review procedures.

The changes outlined in the plan aim to improve communication and feedback between deans, candidates, and review committees; offer more guidance for those in the system; and spur more tenured faculty participation.

Most changes will go into effect on July 1, 2022. The FAS also plans to include peer observations of teaching in future tenure reviews, but does not yet have a plan for how it will implement the practice.

The tenure review process has long been contested among faculty, particularly for its use of confidential ad hoc committees. Before reaching a final appointment decision, the University president or provost can choose to convene and oversee a confidential group of administrators and scholars to review a tenure case.

After the University denied tenure to Romance Languages and Literatures associate professor Lorgia García Peña, more than 100 faculty members called for a formal review of the tenure system in December 2019. Gay agreed days later to form a review committee.

The committee’s report, released last October, called the FAS’ tenure-track system “structurally sound,” but said ladder faculty feel a “lack of trust in” and “low morale” about the process.

Gay wrote Tuesday that informational sessions will be held starting this spring to help familiarize faculty and department administrators with the amended processes.

She added that the FAS will also host sessions to clarify the roles of the Committee on Appointments and Promotions and ad hoc committees.

Ad Hoc Committees and Committee on Appointments and Promotions

Tuesday’s plan seeks to increase transparency about CAP and ad hoc processes.

In the final steps of a tenure review, CAP advises the FAS dean on whether to forward a candidate’s case to the president.

Tuesday’s plan states that after CAP makes its recommendation, the divisional dean or the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences dean will give feedback to the department chair about the strengths and weaknesses of the case.

After the president meets with the ad hoc committee, the plan said, the FAS dean will provide feedback to the department chair to aid in preparation for future reviews. Should the faculty member receive the tenured position, the divisional or SEAS dean will offer feedback to the faculty member and help them evaluate how best to “contribute to Harvard’s mission.”

French professor Virginie Greene wrote in an email that the plan avoids addressing the “most contested” aspect of the review — the ad hoc committee. She said that the changes should offer feedback after unsuccessful tenure reviews.

“The plan may improve certain aspects of the review, but will not mitigate the lack of transparency and the difficult aftermath of unsuccessful tenure reviews,” she wrote.

Associate Professor Criteria

The plan also outlined changes to associate professor criteria.

Currently, candidates have to demonstrate “sufficient promise and achievement to qualify for tenure at a major institution within three to five years.” With the new changes, candidates must exhibit the potential to qualify for tenure at Harvard, specifically. This would standardize the criteria between the associate and tenure reviews.

These changes will be implemented in the 2023-2024 academic year to allow assistant professors to receive feedback to prepare for the changes.

External Letters

The plan altered and clarified guidelines relating to letters of recommendation, including the number of required letters, who may write letters, and in what cases additional evaluations may be solicited.

Associate professorship reviews will now require five letters, up from the previous guidelines allowing between three to five. For tenure reviews, departments will require a minimum of ten letters, instead of twelve to fifteen.

Communication and Feedback

The plan encourages departments to provide feedback to tenure-track faculty throughout their time teaching at Harvard, and states that feedback from previous reviews will be shared with the tenure review committee.

In addition, the plan establishes a window of time during the associate and tenure review processes when the candidate and review committee may engage in limited communication to clarify any aspects of the candidate’s materials.

The FAS also encourages departments to “foster robust cultures of discussion, where colleagues can candidly debate the strengths and weaknesses of promotion cases.”

Tuesday’s plan also clarified that teaching means teaching offered in classrooms, advising refers to intellectual support, and mentoring refers to professional support.

Former Harvard College Dean Harry R. Lewis ’68, a professor of Computer Science, wrote in an email he is glad reviews will treat teaching, advising, and mentoring as separate categories of consideration, though he said it will be “messy to administer.”

“It will make tenure reports more complex, and it may not be easy to distinguish these three categories,” he wrote.

“But now department chairs will be able to say to junior faculty in complete honesty that no matter how good a performer you are in the classroom, you aren’t going to get tenure if you deservedly earn yourself a reputation for being indifferent or mean to students,” he added.

Harvard spokesperson Rachael Dane did not respond to a request for comment Thursday evening.

—Staff writer Ariel H. Kim can be reached at ariel.kim@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Meimei Xu can be reached at meimei.xu@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @MeimeiXu7.

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