35% of Surveyed FAS Faculty Believe A Departmental Colleague Was Unjustly Denied Tenure


Thirty-five percent of respondents to The Crimson’s annual survey of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences said they believe at least one colleague in their department was unjustly denied tenure, with a quarter indicating they “strongly believe” an unjust tenure denial had occurred.

Following Harvard’s decision in November 2019 to deny tenure to Romance Languages and Literatures associate professor Loriga García Peña, the University received scrutiny into its tenure processes, particularly whether it fairly evaluates scholars of color.

The University’s tenure procedures recently came under fire again after Professor Cornel R. West ’74 said in February that the University initially denied a request to consider him for tenure, prompting his announced departure to Union Theological Seminary.

FAS Dean Claudine Gay launched a review of the FAS’s tenure processes in December 2019. In an interview with The Crimson in March, Gay said that the review’s findings are expected to be released later this spring.


The Crimson distributed its faculty survey to more than 1,100 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.

The first installment of The Crimson’s 2021 faculty survey series explores faculty views on the University’s tenure procedures.

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain and FAS spokesperson Anna G. Cowenhoven declined to comment on the findings.

What Leads to Tenure?

Harvard often cites teaching and research as core tenets of its mission, but faculty responses to the survey indicate that research is the much stronger consideration in tenure cases. Asked what they believe was the primary factor for their tenure, fewer than two percent of respondents who indicated they were tenured faculty named teaching — whether graduate or undergraduate — as the most important factor. In contrast, 86 percent of tenured respondents said they believed research played the biggest role in Harvard’s decision to grant them tenure.


Among survey-takers who identified themselves as associate or assistant professors, 40 percent indicated the FAS has not given them enough flexibility to choose how to allot their time between research, teaching, and mentorship.

Non-tenure-track faculty respondents were not posed this survey question. However, earlier this month, the FAS Preceptor System Review Committee — charged last year with recommending changes to the roles of preceptor and senior preceptor — released a final report that framed preceptors and senior preceptors’ roles as purely teaching positions. This distinction spurred disappointment among preceptors who highlighted the necessity of research credentials to apply for jobs after Harvard. In an emailed statement earlier this month, Dean for Faculty Affairs and Planning Nina Zipser wrote that preceptors “are hired to teach not to conduct research.”

Forty-three percent of all surveyed faculty indicated they were somewhat strongly, strongly, or very strongly considering job offers they had received from outside of Harvard. Among the non-tenure-track faculty who responded to the survey, this number increased to 58 percent.

In response to a question about whether the University should grant tenure to West — asked prior to West’s announcement of his departure to Union — faculty responses indicated a wide range of opinions. Thirty-seven percent of respondents believed that Harvard should grant tenure to West, with 25 percent strongly agreeing. Twenty-two percent of respondents, however, did not believe Harvard should grant tenure to West, with 15 percent strongly disagreeing.


Reviewing the Tenure Review Process

While about a quarter of respondents overall said they strongly believe at least one colleague in their department was unjustly denied tenure, opinions differed based on respondents’ disciplines.

Seventeen percent of respondents in the Sciences division strongly agreed at least one departmental colleague was unjustly denied tenure, compared to 22 percent in the Arts and Humanities, 29 percent in the Social Sciences, and 39 percent in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Surveyed faculty overwhelmingly supported the FAS review of tenure procedures, which launched in January 2020 and is set to conclude this spring: over three-quarters of respondents agreed with Dean Gay’s decision to form the committee. Notably, however, the committee is not reviewing the use of ad hoc committees within the process because they take place at the University-level.

Junior faculty members pursuing tenure spend seven to eight years managing a rigorous teaching and advising schedule combined with independent research. At the end of this period, junior faculty hopefuls go through several rounds of evaluation by their peers, during which time they may be recommended for tenure by their department.

After approval by the Committee on Appointments and Promotions and FAS Dean, tenure cases then often proceed to consideration by an ad hoc faculty committee, which is chaired by the president or provost and whose composition is secret. The ad hoc committee advises the president or provost, who makes the final decision.


Nearly thirty-eight percent of survey-takers believed that the procedure for granting tenure should conclude with a confidential ad hoc committee, while 31 percent disagreed. Opinions regarding the use of ad hoc committees also varied across the FAS’s three academic divisions — 46 percent of respondents in the Social Sciences said they believe tenure review should conclude in the hands of an ad hoc committee, compared to 32 percent in the Arts and Humanities and 37 percent in the Sciences.


For its 2021 Faculty Survey, The Crimson collected electronic responses through Qualtrics, an online survey platform, from Feb. 26 to March 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 Dean’s report, 41 percent of the FAS were non-ladder faculty — a term synonymous with non-tenure-track faculty. By contrast, 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

—Staff writer Andy Z. Wang can be reached at