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Two-Thirds of Non-Tenure-Track Faculty Say FAS Does Not Provide Them Enough Support

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Two-thirds of non-tenure-track respondents to The Crimson’s annual faculty survey said they believe the Faculty of Arts and Sciences does not provide enough support to non-tenure-track faculty.

In addition, 31 percent of non-tenure-track faculty surveyed — which included lecturers, preceptors, professors of the practice, and visiting professors — said they were considering a job offer outside of Harvard. Of those with job offers, nearly 60 percent said they were considering taking the external offer.

The Crimson distributed its faculty survey to more than 1,180 members of the FAS in late February, polling Harvard’s flagship faculty on key University policy decisions, challenges they face as academics, and pressing issues on campus — including the repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic. Tenured, tenure-track, and non-tenure-track faculty all received the survey.

The 94-question survey obtained more than 300 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. 26 to Mar. 5. The Crimson did not adjust the data for possible selection bias.

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The first, second, third, fourth, and fifth installments of The Crimson’s 2021 faculty survey series explored faculty perspectives on tenure procedures, campus divestment movements, the climate and culture of the FAS, Harvard’s response to Covid-19, and University and FAS governance, respectively. This final installment examines how faculty view FAS policies surrounding non-tenure-track faculty.

University spokesperson Jason A. Newton and FAS spokesperson Anna G. Cowenhoven declined to comment for this story.

‘Really Central Roles’

Of all respondents to the survey, including tenured and tenure-track professors, just under half reported that they believe the FAS does not provide enough support for non-tenure-track faculty. However, faculty differed significantly on this view depending on their ladder status.

While only 35 percent of tenured and tenure-track faculty said their non-ladder faculty colleagues lacked support from the FAS, 67 percent of non-tenure-track faculty said they were missing FAS support.

Survey respondents were also invited to share what aspects of their department or division’s culture they believe need to change. Common responses from non-tenure-track faculty included a lack of respect for teaching in comparison to research, poor treatment of non-ladder faculty, and an uneven burden of teaching and mentoring responsibilities placed on junior faculty. Several respondents also called for the elimination of the time caps on non-ladder faculty appointments.

The FAS hires most non-tenure-track faculty — notably including preceptors and lecturers — with a firm “time cap” of up to eight years. After this period elapses, the faculty member cannot again teach in a nontenured position at Harvard, regardless of their performance.

Expository Writing preceptor Margaret R. Doherty said many non-tenure-track faculty play “really central roles” at Harvard, especially with regard to teaching.

“When you have non-tenure-track faculty who have been here for a long time, who are not looking to leave or fielding other job offers, I think that gives you a sense of how essential these faculty members become to the University, particularly to undergraduate teaching,” Doherty said.

“When you’re teaching and working with this shadow of eventual layoff hovering over you the entire time, it is really hard to feel respected,” Doherty added. “It is really a kind of burden upon you to know that you’re always on your way out in some way.”

‘Not A Stepping Stone Job’

Thirty-one percent of non-ladder faculty respondents said they were either somewhat strongly, strongly, or very strongly considering a job offer outside Harvard. Among those with offers, 58 percent of non-tenure-track faculty respondents said they are somewhat, strongly, or very strongly considering taking them. In contrast, only 32 percent of ladder faculty with external offers indicated the same.

Sara M. Feldman, a preceptor in Yiddish, said she believes that Harvard’s characterization of its non-ladder faculty positions as “a stepping stone” to tenure-track positions or teaching positions at other institutions is inaccurate. She pointed out that the FAS does not provide research support for non-ladder faculty; a committee reviewing the FAS’s preceptor system reaffirmed that preceptors are exclusively hired for teaching, not research.

Of the non-tenure-track respondents, 70 percent said they see undergraduate teaching as their primary role as a faculty member. Just seven percent said their position prioritizes research.

“I think, in some ways, a person could leave Harvard less desirable for another job than when they arrived, in terms of how much they’ve been publishing in the last year or two,” Feldman said.

Fifty-nine percent of non-ladder faculty said they believe their compensation is too low, compared to 29 percent of tenured and tenure-track faculty who said the same.

Doherty said she believes such findings indicate that “there just isn’t enough investment on the part of the administration for teaching, advising, mentoring, all of the things that are central to student life at Harvard.”

“Our benefits are significantly less than the benefits allotted to our tenure-track colleagues, and they’re certainly not enough for most people I know who are trying to support a family or plan for the future,” Doherty said.

Methodology

For its 2021 Faculty Survey, The Crimson collected electronic responses through Qualtrics, an online survey platform, from Feb. 26 to Mar. 5, 2021. A link to the anonymous survey was sent to 1,182 FAS and SEAS faculty members through emails sourced in February 2021 from Harvard directory information. The pool included individuals on Harvard’s Connections database with FAS affiliations, including tenured, tenure-track, and non-tenure-track faculty.

Of those faculty, 315 accessed the link to the survey. A total of 309 participants answered at least one question, while 235 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, 38 percent identified themselves as women and 19 percent identified themselves as minorities. Based on data in the 2020 FAS Dean’s Annual report, women and minorities make up 32 percent and 25 percent of FAS ladder faculty, respectively.

According to the report, 41 percent of the FAS were non-ladder faculty — a term synonymous with non-tenure-track faculty. Similarly, 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, 106 — or 9 percent — are affiliated with SEAS. In comparison, of respondents who indicated their divisional affiliation on the survey, 6 percent reported an affiliation with SEAS.

—Staff writer Meera S. Nair can be reached at meera.nair@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Andy Z. Wang can be reached at andy.wang@thecrimson.com.

This is the final installment in a six-part series analyzing the results of The Crimson’s survey of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard’s flagship faculty. Read the first installment here, the second installment here, the third installment here, the fourth installment here, and the fifth installment here.

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