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At Least Five GSAS Departments To Admit No Graduate Students Next Year

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At least five departments in Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences will not admit students for next year as a result of belt-tightening measures due to the coronavirus pandemic and an increased focus on advising and diversity.

American Studies, Anthropology, Film and Visual Studies, Germanic Languages and Literatures, and South Asian Studies each announced on a GSAS website that their admissions are suspended “due to the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the importance of supporting current students.”

“If you have already applied and paid the application fee, you will receive an email with refund information,” the sites read. “At this time, the next application deadline is expected to be January 2022 for fall 2022 enrollment.”

GSAS spokesperson Ann Hall declined to comment on whether these would be the only five departments pausing admissions. Administrators usually inform departments of their final authorized number of offers and target cohort size for the coming year in December or January. Other departments may see a reduction in admissions, according to the October announcement.

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GSAS Dean Emma Dench wrote in an emailed statement to The Crimson Monday that the school is making decisions on admissions changes using a “balanced approach.”

“Unlike our peer institutions, some of whom have announced pauses on admissions to whole clusters of graduate student programs for fall 2021, GSAS, SEAS, and FAS leadership resolved to take a more balanced approach to admissions, one that aims to preserve our research and intellectual goals as much as possible, while keeping our focus on the academic success of our current students,” she wrote.

In their Oct. 29 announcement of the change, several top administrators in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences and GSAS wrote in a letter that reduced numbers of new students would allow GSAS to “reset” its approach towards admissions to focus on diversity, advising strength, and student career outcomes in those programs.

They also cited the pandemic’s toll on the University’s finances, reduced access to campus resources, and the flagging academic job market as reasons for the decision.

German professor Peter J. Burgard, who serves as Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures, said the decision to pause admissions would be “dramatically damaging” for his department, especially given its already small size.

He said the decision means that not only will the department lose its prospective applicants this year, it could take a long time to rebuild its reputation as a top program.

“Chicago, Cornell, Princeton, Yale, our top competitors, none of them have paused their graduate admissions,” he said. “It’s going to be much harder to recruit students because of the damage done to the reputation of the department with this action.”

“I can’t emphasize enough how fragile a thing reputation is for small departments,” he added.

Burgard said there was “no transparency whatsoever” in the decision and faculty were not consulted in the process. He said the policy was “another brick in the wall of the all-administrative University.”

In terms of impacts on course offerings, Burgard said an immediate effect would be the elimination of some 200-level courses, which graduate students take in their first two years and are also required for undergraduates pursuing Harvard’s new concurrent bachelor’s-master’s degree program.

“We’ll be offering plenty of undergraduate courses for the year, but we won’t be offering enough courses for students doing a concurrent masters,” he said.

In the long term, Burgard said the decision may lead to a shortage of graduate students to teach undergraduate courses, forcing the department to turn to external adjunct faculty.

College spokesperson Rachael Dane wrote in an emailed statement that the College is already thinking about the new admissions policy’s potential impact on instructional support and “the potential need to work across departments to fill available teaching positions in the affected departments.”

Harvard Graduate Students Union-United Automobile Workers President Brandon J. Mancilla wrote in an email that while he agrees academics face a job market crisis, it is a “self-imposed crisis in the sense that university administrators around the country have decided to slash budgets that would support new tenure-track hires.”

“Their decision to cut or freeze admissions makes sense in the short-run, but does not solve the job market crisis in academia in the long-run,” Mancilla wrote.

He added the union is concerned the decision could add to graduate students’ “already-overburdened workloads.”

“While fewer students may mean more time with advisors and a reallocation of resources, it also means a less evenly-distributed workload and in the end, an environment that is unwelcoming and unsustainable for the diverse students Harvard claims it will be able to admit in the future,” he wrote.

“This is not an easy situation and every decision contains its own contradictions,” Mancilla added. “We expect to be part of all decision making on these changes that directly impact student workers.”

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

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