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Faculty Criticize Lack of Harvard Response to Month-Old Non-Tenure-Track Faculty Petition

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Harvard administrators have yet to respond to a petition they received over a month ago calling for an extension on non-tenure-track faculty appointments due to the coronavirus pandemic, a group of non-tenure-track faculty wrote in a press release Monday.

More than 1,100 people have signed the petition, which urges Harvard to extend non-tenure-track faculty time caps by at least one year given the bleak economic outlook and public health crisis. Faculty organizers delivered their demands to University President Lawrence S. Bacow and Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 on April 7, according to History and Literature lecturer Alex W. Corey.

The petition states that, without a policy change, non-tenure-track faculty who are “timing out” this spring may be left without income and health insurance during the pandemic. It further argues the pandemic stripped some non-tenure-track faculty of months of research and job-seeking opportunities.

The Monday press release argues non-tenure-track faculty will serve a critical function whether the upcoming fall semester is on campus or not, citing the teaching awards non-tenure-track faculty have received and their advising relationships with undergraduates. The University previously announced it will open in the fall, though the semester may be partially or fully virtual.

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“Whether the fall semester is remote or on campus, non-tenure-track faculty will be indispensable to assuring its success,” it reads.

The petition organizers calculated that non-tenure-track faculty taught 53 percent of Harvard undergraduates during the fall 2019 semester.

Faculty of Arts and Sciences spokesperson Rachael Dane declined to comment on the petition or the press release.

FAS Dean Claudine Gay declined to say in an April interview whether she would extend non-tenure-track faculty appointments, drawing a distinction between the different “contexts” in which tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty are hired.

She said non-tenure-track faculty are in teaching appointments “based on curricular need,” whereas tenure-track faculty are not. FAS evaluates faculty for tenure based on a combination of research, teaching, advising, and “citizenship,” according to its tenure-track handbook.

“Lecturers and preceptors play a very important role in carrying out our teaching mission at Harvard,” Gay added.

In March, Harvard offered one-year contract extensions to many tenure-track faculty, citing the disruption to their research the pandemic caused.

While administrators have not offered a similar extension to all non-tenure-track faculty, some academic departments have extended appointments of non-tenure-track faculty based on curricular need, according to Dane.

Ron R. Ramsubhag, who has been a preceptor in Chemistry and Chemical Biology for three years, said he learned in mid-April that his appointment would not be renewed this year due to cutbacks in his department.

Ramsubhag said although he knew there was a chance he would lose his job this year, the transition to Zoom classes made it difficult for him to enter the job market.

“With the whole pandemic happening, it’s so hard to concentrate on applying for jobs when you have to go online,” he said. “I couldn’t even apply for jobs or think about jobs, because all I'm thinking about right now is that I have to make sure that the class is still running.”

Ramsubhag added the pandemic has created one other issue for his job search: increased competition for his next position.

“When you find out that you’re losing your job and it’s almost May and you're like, ‘oh, wait a second, you want me to find a job in two months with this going on?’” he said. “I'm pretty sure a lot of people are looking for jobs.”

—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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