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Just One Quarter of Respondents to Faculty Survey Said Bacow Adequately Represents Their Interests

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Just one quarter of respondents to The Crimson’s survey of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences said they feel that University President Lawrence S. Bacow has represented their interests well during his two years in Massachusetts Hall.

Nearing the end of his second year as President, Bacow has already weathered a myriad of high-profile challenges: protests in favor of divestment, a lawsuit challenging Harvard’s admissions policies, controversy around faculty deans, scrutiny over donations, a graduate student strike, and controversy surrounding tenure denials.

Thirty-nine percent of faculty who responded to the survey reported satisfaction with Bacow’s tenure as Harvard’s President thus far. Twenty-nine percent of respondents were dissatisfied, while 32 percent were neutral. FAS Dean Claudine Gay — who started in her role one month after Bacow — received a higher satisfaction rating, with 47 percent of respondents expressing satisfaction with her tenure thus far. Seventeen percent of survey-takers were dissatisfied with Gay, while 36 percent were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied.

Surveyed members of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences also strongly favor divesting the University’s endowment from fossil fuels and private prisons, and a majority are unsatisfied with administrators’ responses to the issue.

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The Crimson distributed its faculty survey to more than 1,000 members of the FAS in late February, polling Harvard’s flagship faculty on key University policy decisions, pressing issues on campus, and challenges they face as academics. Emeritus, tenured, tenure-track, and non-tenure-track faculty all received the survey.

The 74-question survey garnered more than 400 responses, though not all respondents answered each question. The anonymous survey, a link to which was emailed to nearly every member of the FAS, was open from Feb. 20 to 27. The Crimson did not adjust the data for possible selection bias.

While the first installment of The Crimson’s 2020 faculty survey series explored political beliefs of the faculty, the second installment examines faculty perspectives on administration and faculty governance at a time when activism — including by members of the FAS — around a number of national and campus issues has roiled the University.

THE CENTRAL ADMINISTRATION

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While a plurality of survey-takers said they are satisfied with President Bacow’s tenure, opinions of the University’s 29th leader differed significantly based on respondents’ demographics.

Faculty views of Bacow varied across gender — 32 percent of male respondents said they think Bacow has represented their interests well, whereas only 12 percent of female respondents did.

Sentiments towards Bacow also varied across FAS’s three academic divisions — 38 percent of respondents in the Sciences said they think Bacow has represented their interests well, compared to 26 percent in the Social Sciences and 14 percent in the Arts and Humanities.

During the February faculty meeting, FAS voted 179-20 to demand that the Corporation divest the University’s endowment. A similarly large majority of respondents to The Crimson’s survey said they believe that Harvard should divest from the fossil fuel industry. Of those who agreed with fossil fuel divestment, 68 percent said they ‘strongly agreed’.

Fifty-three percent of respondents said they are “dissatisfied” with Bacow and the Harvard Corporation’s response to the divestment movement.

A group of professors began calling for divestment more than five years ago, working under the name Harvard Faculty for Divestment. In 2014, the group wrote an open letter to former University President Drew G. Faust and members of the Harvard Corporation urging fossil fuel divestment. Roughly 1,100 faculty have signed an online letter asking the same of Bacow.

Seventy-three percent of respondents agreed that Harvard should divest from companies tied to prisons; 47 percent of respondents said they ‘strongly agreed’.

Following this February’s faculty vote, Bacow said he will bring the motion to the Corporation for consideration and report back later this semester.

“President Bacow values the perspectives and the remarkable work of the faculty,” University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain wrote in an emailed statement. “He works closely with deans and faculty members across the university to advance research, scholarship and teaching.”

Common responses to a write-in question about what Bacow should prioritize during the rest of his tenure included improving faculty diversity, addressing climate change, and divesting the endowment. Several respondents also said Bacow should prioritize improving the tenure process and maintaining Harvard’s academic excellence.

THE FAS ADMINISTRATION

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Like Bacow, FAS Dean Claudine Gay took office in summer 2018 and has weathered student protests during the first two years of her tenure. Gay has also been charged with leading an activist faculty that increasingly backed many of its students’ demands.

A plurality of surveyed faculty — 39 percent — agreed that “Dean Gay has represented [their] interests well,” including 17 percent who strongly agreed. Twenty-two percent disagreed with the statement.

Compared to her 47 percent overall satisfaction rating, 61 percent of respondents from the Social Sciences division — which Gay formerly led — approved of her tenure. By comparison, just 41 percent of surveyed Arts and Humanities faculty registered their approval.

Opinions on Gay’s tenure and representation of faculty interests also diverged among FAS members of different positions. Fifty-five percent of tenured faculty who responded were satisfied with Gay’s tenure, while 20 percent were dissatisfied.

Just 19 percent of preceptors who took the survey, however, were happy with Gay’s tenure. Similarly, only 22 percent of preceptors felt represented well by Gay, compared to 42 percent of tenured faculty.

FAS spokesperson Anna G. Cowenhoven declined to comment on the surveyed faculty’s views of Gay and her administration.

Replying to a write-in question asking what Gay should focus on in the next several years of her tenure, common answers among faculty included reviewing the tenure process, improving faculty diversity, helping non-tenure-track faculty, establishing an ethnic studies program, and funding the humanities.

Traditionally, the faculty have governed themselves via monthly meetings and biweekly Faculty Council meetings, the latter of which Gay chairs. Only 43 percent of respondents, however, had attended an FAS faculty meeting in the last six months. The majority of faculty surveyed — 56 percent — said they believe faculty meetings are not “an effective forum for FAS to express its interests.”

Several respondents who explained their opinion of faculty meetings in a write-in question wrote they believe the meetings are too large, formal, and programmed to hold productive discussions.

Sixty-six percent of respondents said they believed the faculty should have more authority in University governance; 51 percent believed the authority of the faculty has diminished over the past several years.

METHODOLOGY

For its 2020 Faculty Survey, The Crimson collected electronic responses through Qualtrics, an online survey platform, from Feb. 20 to 27, 2020. A link to the anonymous survey was sent to 1,341 FAS and SEAS faculty members through emails sourced in October 2019 from Harvard directory information. The pool included individuals on Harvard’s Connections database with FAS titles, including emeritus, tenured, tenure-track, and non-tenure-track faculty.

Of those faculty, 476 accessed the link to the survey. A total of 416 participants answered at least one question, while 263 participants completed every question in the survey.

To prevent participants from accidentally taking the survey more than once, The Crimson enabled Qualtrics’ browser cookie functionality to register unique survey sessions on each device. This device data is controlled by Qualtrics, and The Crimson does not retain information that could identify devices accessing the survey with anonymous responses.

In an effort to check for response bias, The Crimson compared respondent demographics with publicly available information on faculty demographics provided by the University — information regarding gender, minority background, SEAS affiliation, and ladder versus non-ladder status. Overall, respondent demographics tracked with faculty demographics.

Of survey respondents, 41 percent identified themselves as women and 20 percent identified themselves as minorities. Based on data in the 2019 FAS Dean’s Annual report, women and minorities make up 39 percent and 24 percent of FAS ladder faculty, respectively.

According to the Dean’s report, 41 percent of the FAS were non-ladder faculty — a term synonymous with non-tenure-track faculty. By contrast, 39 percent of respondents to The Crimson’s survey identified themselves as non-ladder faculty.

Of faculty who were sent the link to the survey, 127 — or 9 percent — are affiliated with SEAS. In comparison, of respondents who indicated their divisional affiliation on the survey, 7 percent reported an affiliation with SEAS.

—Staff writer James S. Bikales can be reached at james.bikales@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamepdx.

— Staff writer Kevin R. Chen can be reached at kevin.chen@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @kchenx.

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