Harvard just keeps apologizing

I continue to think it ironic that Larry Summers, who had earlier attacked those who
support divestment from Israel as anti-Semitic, finds himself unable to hide
behind the “academic freedom” flag. (Not that I agree with divestment nor with Summers’ intemperate speech).

March 1, 2005

Dear Alumnae and Alumni,

As you are no doubt aware, there has been considerable public discussion in
recent weeks about gender diversity at Harvard, particularly in the sciences
and engineering.  President Summers and I have sought to turn the heightened
attention on issues of gender into an opportunity to make concrete progress in
the time ahead.  Towards this end, the President has announced the
formation of two task forces, one focused on women in science and engineering,
the other focused on broader issues affecting all women faculty, and has asked
that they develop concrete proposals and recommendations that can be acted upon
in the coming months.  I welcome this step, and will work closely with
the task forces to ensure that we succeed in addressing the concerns of the Faculty
of Arts and Sciences. 

I write today to tell you what we are doing, right now, in the FAS, to address these
issues.  I want to look forward, not backward.  I write in
the hope that you will share with me your comments, suggestions, and criticisms
as we move ahead.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences is fully committed to supporting and advancing
the careers of our women faculty, and to encouraging our female students to
pursue careers in every discipline.  As Dean, and as colleague to so
many outstanding women faculty, I truly believe that the strength of the FAS,
and our collective effectiveness as mentors, depend on a faculty that is
talented and diverse.

The FAS is similar to its peer institutions.  We share, and not to our
glory, records of less than stellar achievement in recruiting, supporting, and promoting
women faculty.  Academia has its own long history of discrimination,
complacency, and even well-meaning, but insufficiently effective efforts at
genuine change.  The institutional temptation for self-reproduction in
faculty hiring is strong.

I believe in change; the quality of our collective intellectual endeavor
depends on it.  Not just in the past month, as public debate has
swelled, but in the past two years, my colleagues and I have worked hard to
change the policies and the culture of hiring, support, and promotion of
faculty in the FAS.

Let me describe the actions we are taking to ensure that we create in the
future a faculty that is more diverse along many dimensions.  As the
list below indicates, we are instituting policy changes at the departmental, divisional,
and decanal levels.  Beyond policy, there are sizable cultural issues
to address.  

At the departmental level, we have revised our search procedures to encourage faculty
to throw the net far and wide, to keep a “watching brief” for
talent in any field, in every search.  If Harvard seeks the best
faculty, we can only find them through the most thorough and open searches, not
by looking only in narrowly-defined subfields.

My colleagues who serve as divisional deans (for Humanities, Social Sciences,
and Physical Sciences) and the chair of the Life Sciences Council are
monitoring search procedures at every level.  If a non-tenured search
is not sufficiently broad or thorough, we will not authorize the
appointment.  They and the larger body of academic deans are reviewing
every tenured search, with the same purpose in mind.  Women scholars
will also serve on every ad hoc committee for tenure
appointments in the FAS. 

I have asked the Academic Deans to review FAS policies in several important areas: 
maternity leave, parental teaching relief, extension of the “tenure
clock,” increased support for child care, and related issues. 

The FAS already offers strong programs in these areas.  For instance,
a colleague may be excused from teaching obligations for a semester or a year
following the birth or adoption of a child.  Non-tenured colleagues
with substantial parenting responsibilities may delay the “tenure
clock” for up to two years.  Even so, we know that the
demands of balancing work and family are great, and we wish to support our
colleagues as much as possible.

We also know that cultural pressures can affect our colleagues’ ability to flourish. 
Departmental attitudes can discourage women and men from “breaking”
their career trajectory.  In addition to family considerations,
non-tenured faculty deserve other forms of support that will help to make them
successful candidates for tenure at Harvard.  Thus, I am asking each
department chair to convene a departmental meeting to discuss best practices in
the mentoring and career development of non-tenured colleagues.  We
aim to create, for the FAS as a whole, practices that are more consistent,
transparent, and respectful – and, within each department, a culture that
conveys in every way the stake that we have in seeing our non-tenured
colleagues flourish as teachers, scholars, and citizens of the

In the longer run, building a faculty that is diverse as well as strong demands
the rejuvenation of the faculty.  Over nine percent of the FAS are at
or beyond the age of 70.  Almost every colleague who retires is male. 
As I announced in my Annual Letter, two-thirds of our growth will occur in the
non-tenured ranks over the next decade, and assistant professorships are now
considered “tenure-track” positions.  We aim to give
every assistant professor the time, support, and advice she or he will need to
be competitive for tenure at Harvard.  There are many strong
institutional reasons for hiring more scholars who are just beginning their
careers, but I should note in this context that there is considerably greater
diversity in younger cohorts of applicants.  Thus, last year, even as
we had an unimpressive record in recruiting senior women to tenured positions
at Harvard, we were very successful at the non-tenured level:  40 percent
of non-tenured appointments last year went to women.

Leadership opportunities, not just membership in the Faculty, deserve our
serious attention.  I will continue carefully to consider female colleagues
for every department chairmanship, center directorship, and academic deanship. 
At present, 20 percent of our department or degree-committee chairs are
women.  Thirty percent of tenured colleagues serving as FAS deans and
associate deans are women.  Thirty-nine percent of the Faculty Council
members are women.  But I also know that service in these positions
places extraordinary demands on the time of a small number of colleagues, many
of whom serve in multiple roles.

We know that we can make progress because we have done it before.  In
1988, women represented 14 percent of all assistant, associate, and tenured faculty. 
They now comprise 23 percent.  In 1988, women formed 7 percent of all
tenured faculty.  They now form 18 percent.  In 1988,
minorities represented 8.7 percent of all assistant, associate, and tenured
faculty, and 6.8 percent of senior faculty.  As of January 1, 2005, 20.2
percent of our non-tenured faculty, and 9.2 percent of our senior faculty are
members of minority groups.

Take the case of my own department.  When I joined our History
Department in 1992, we had one tenured female colleague out of a tenured
faculty of 31.  Less than a decade later, there were 11 tenured women
in History.  This did not happen by itself, waiting for applications
to fly over the transom.  It was the result of a department determined
not simply to replicate itself, but dedicated to searching aggressively for
excellence in every field.

In recent weeks, I have personally spoken to many faculty members – both current
and prospective – to assure them of Harvard’s commitment to diversity in
general, and to each of them as individuals.  The measures I describe
above must be part of a larger, ongoing effort, one that is embraced by all of
us in the FAS – every faculty member, department chair, and not least, this
Dean – in our greatest collective interest.  If the FAS strives to be
second to none, richest in its intellectual resources, keenest in cutting that
“edge” of knowledge, we can only do so if our faculty honors
the contributions of all.  In this effort, Harvard should lead, not

Yours sincerely,

William C. Kirby
Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Edith and Benjamin Geisinger Professor of History

(Despite the date on the message, I got this email this afternoon).

Be Sociable, Share!