Taking Care of Junior Professors

Having identified financial and other pressures on untenured professors, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) Jeremy R. Knowles...

Having identified financial and other pressures on untenured professors, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) Jeremy R. Knowles announced substantial increases in junior-faculty compensation beginning this fall.

In last year's annual message to the FAS, Knowles observed with concern the declining number of nontenured professors, "who are, surely, essential to the refreshment, intellectual liveliness, and teaching of all departments" (see "Thinning Ranks," March-April 1999, page 65). Citing perse possible explanations--more frequent internal promotions, protracted searches, and junior professors' decision to accept tenure-track positions elsewhere--he said that he, fellow deans, and the FAS Resources Committee would investigate the problem.

Knowles disclosed their findings at the December 14 faculty meeting. A summer survey of peer institutions, he said, revealed that Harvard's salary and housing-support offers for new assistant professors had become uncompetitive in certain fields. Moreover, he noted, the spread of junior-faculty salaries had become greater at other institutions--presumably reflecting market pressures in disciplines such as computer science, and bidding for perceived "star" candidates. Finally, he noted that the cost of housing in Greater Boston had risen far faster than in most other areas in the three years since FAS instituted a $3,000 annual housing supplement for junior professors.

He then announced Harvard's response. Starting in the new academic year, the initial salaries of new assistant professors will increase by more than 12 percent over the current level; salaries of existing assistant and associate professors will be adjusted commensurately. The housing supplement for all junior faculty members will rise to $5,000. In especially competitive fields--Knowles cited economics and computer science--"the salary level for an inpidual may occasionally be raised." Finally, a rigid length-of-service formula will be scrapped, allowing some flexibility in the annual salary increases of junior professors.

Although the exact figures are not released, a sensible estimate would put annual compensation (salary plus housing allowance) for new assistant professors in the humanities and most social sciences in the mid-$50,000 range, and in the mid-$60,000 range for economists and scientists. (The former group also receive up to two terms of paid leave for research, while the latter, laboratory-bound and presumably sustained by research grants, do not.) In an average year, FAS hires 25 new assistant professors.

"Compensation is not the only ingredient that determines the morale of the faculty, or even determines the successful recruitment of a new colleague," Knowles acknowledged. Nonetheless, he declared, "I should prefer that the grass on our side of the fence be as green as we can make it." The new compensation plans, at an annual incremental cost he estimates at $1.4 million, are intended to assure that Harvard's pastures appear relatively lush. By adopting them faculty-wide, Knowles noted, FAS should be able to "respond (as we must) to market forces and competitive pressures"--both in recruiting and in retaining sought-after junior faculty members--while preserving "a reasonably equitable salary structure, particularly within each department."


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