Email Message from Harvard University FAS Dean William C. Kirby

By March 7, 2005

From: William Kirby <William_C_Kirby@harvard.edu>
Date: Mon, 07 Mar 2005 17:45:10 -0500
Subject: Message from Dean William C. Kirby


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 University.


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 follow.


Yours sincerely,


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