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John Harvard's Journal

Developing a Diverse Faculty

September-October 2006

“Harvard is at the beginning of a very long journey,” writes senior vice provost for faculty development and diversity Evelynn M. Hammonds in the first annual report issued by her office (published June 13; see the new “Faculty Affairs” website, www.faculty.harvard.edu). Hammonds’s post, created in mid 2005 at the recommendation of the Task Force on Women Faculty, which she had chaired, is responsible for pursuing that group’s suggestions and those of the companion Task Force on Women in Science and Engineering (see “Diversity Director,” September-October 2005, page 56). Now, Hammonds can detail the actual composition of Harvard’s faculties, outline new policies, and fund enhanced programs deemed important to supporting faculty development.


Demographics. The report brings together for the first time data on the gender and ethnic composition of the University’s full faculty, disaggregated by academic unit. Among the notable findings for academic year 2006 (see chart):

  • Women comprise less than a quarter of the tenured faculty in 10 of 13 populations shown; the three exceptions are the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) humanities, and the divinity and education schools.
  • In contrast, women hold 25 percent or more of the tenure-track faculty positions in every unit except the law, design, and divinity schools.
  • Minority tenured professors comprise less than 15 percent of the tenured faculty in 11 of the 13 populations, exceeding that threshold only in the business and design schools.
  • The pipeline is thinner than for women, too, with minorities accounting for a quarter or more of tenure-track faculty members only in FAS natural sciences and the schools of education, government, and public health.

Subsequent charts compare Harvard’s faculty population, by discipline, with peer institutions’. Data collection will be refined and will soon include statistics on faculty not on the tenure “ladder,” and on individual minority groups. Hammonds’s office will also review data being compiled by the Office of Institutional Research on gender and ethnic differences, if any, in promotions, salaries, access to research leaves, and the proportion of faculty members who hold named chairs. In all, these data will provide comprehensive baselines against which to measure Harvard’s faculty composition overall and in its decentralized academic units.

Percentage of tenured professors who are women and minorities, for academic year 2006. (The annual report of the Office of Faculty Development and Diversity, source of these data, also provides figures for affiliated medical institutions and the School of Dental Medicine.)


The faculty pipeline. Under the rubric of “pipeline, recruitment, promotion, retention,” the office is supporting student scientists (through study centers and a summer research program; see "Supporting Young Scientists"), hoping to encourage more young scholars to pursue the field professionally. A new office of postdoctoral affairs focuses on the professional lives of the large population of postdocs, particularly in the life sciences—a critical stage where many prospective faculty members decide to pursue or abandon their academic careers. And Harvard now works with other schools to help potential appointees’ spouses find work in the area.

As chair of a provostial appointments committee, Hammonds reviewed more than 400 appointment files during the year (for junior and term faculty) and participated in University-level tenure reviews. In cases where limits on existing positions or financial resources would otherwise preclude hiring, Harvard continues to provide funding so departments and schools can make qualified appointments that contribute to faculty diversity; during the year, support was made available through Hammonds’s office in 20 such situations.


Institutional policies. Based on a review of Harvard practices and a survey of junior faculty members, the development and diversity office has promulgated minimum standards, University-wide, for faculty parental leaves— providing for paid time off and teaching relief for birth and adoptive parents—effective July 1. In concert with human resources, the office also boosted faculty and staff childcare scholarships, operating subsidies to Harvard childcare centers, and plans to expand childcare capacity—commitments expected to cost $7.5 million during the next three years.


Culture. For all its visibility and the funds made available by then-president Lawrence H. Summers ($50 million in all), the Office of Faculty Development and Diversity’s bigger challenges lie in intangible realms. For example, the survey of junior faculty found that they ranked “informal mentoring” among the most important factors in their professional success. Creating an atmosphere where tenured faculty members respond to this need is not a matter of legislation. Similarly, the expectations and norms that search-committee members bring to their work significantly influence the perceptions of applicants for Harvard jobs, and the outcomes of the hiring process. A working group is now creating guidelines for successful searches at the junior and senior faculty levels.

Two articles in the July 20 New England Journal of Medicine underscored the importance of such cultural changes—and thetime it takes to diversify faculties. A review of leading academic medical journals by Reshma Jagsi and colleagues from Massachusetts General Hospital and Boston Medical Center showed a gradual increase in the proportion of senior authors who are women, but also a persistent gender gap. Women currently hold just 14 percent of full professorships among medical schools’ clinical faculties, the analysis notes, despite the fact that the last year in which women were just 14 percent of medical students was 1972 (47 percent were women in 2005). An accompanying editorial notes “the role of choice when comparing sex differences in faculty achievement,” but also points to “aspects of institutional culture and policy,” from the tenure clock to inferior mentoring, as impediments to women’s progress.

Hammonds has described her mission as “development” in the broad sense of investing in human resources and enabling young academics to grow in capability—a sharp change for those schools which have hitherto paid perfunctory attention to junior-faculty searches, minimized the chances for internal promotion, and tended chiefly to appoint senior scholars from elsewhere to tenured positions.

“[The] University pursues the benefits of diversity among its faculty not because they help women or people of color,” Hammonds writes, “but because they bring us a more excellent faculty overall and help the institution become more productive, more creative, more competitive, and more successful.”

“In any university,” she adds, “there will always be a need to address issues of faculty development. It is my hope that there will not always be a need to focus on faculty diversity.”