Growth Spurt

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) has grown more in the past nine years than in the previous four decades. In a letter distributed to faculty members early in April, Dean Jeremy R. Knowles sought to explain the dynamics of this spurt (the first since the number of assistant, associate, and full professors rose from about 400 to more than 600 during the early 1960s); its effects so far; and its implications for the future.

Toward the end of the $2.6-billion University Campaign and his original term as dean, in 1999, Knowles set a goal of adding six new faculty positions annually for a decade. In fact, the census has risen from 615 positions during the 1997-1998 academic year to 723 today—a gain of 108. The principal goal, he writes, was to improve the ratio of students (undergraduate and graduate) to faculty members. That would make it easier for students to work more closely with professors and, from the faculty perspective, help equalize teaching commitments and ensure enough courses even as leaves for research were liberalized.

Today, Knowles’s data show Harvard’s student:faculty ratio at 14.6 during 2005-2006 (when FAS faculty members numbered 705): substantially higher than Yale (9.9) or Princeton (10.7), but lower than Stanford (15.3) or Berkeley (26.9).

Faculty counts from the 2005-2006 academic year except Yale (2004-2005). Source: Association of American Universities Data Exchange, via Faculty of Arts and Sciences

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences continues to augment its science and engineering strength. Some peer institutions have a relatively higher percentage of their faculty in these disciplines.

Analyzing the expansion more closely, Knowles highlights several factors that will shape the faculty’s future composition and growth. That growth is certain to slow because of what he calls “the considerable rise in our expenditures,” attributable primarily to the hiring boom, the cost of fitting up faculty offices and laboratories, and the resulting need to hire associated staff (see “‘House-Poor,’” January-February, page 58). Indeed, he projects 732 faculty members by the end of this academic year, but just 750 in July 2010 (supplemented by any extra positions funded by future gifts).

  • Development. For all the attention paid to growth (new positions), Knowles addresses faculty renewal as well. As FAS grew by 108 positions, it also made 279 appointments to maintain its steady-state size: successors to faculty members who moved, retired, or died. This regular process of development accounted for nearly three times as many new FAS members as did the addition of wholly new faculty positions.

  • Distribution. Given the focus on student:faculty ratios, most of the recent growth has taken place in the divisions with the largest enrollments: social sciences (from 219 faculty members to 245) and humanities (from 178 to 215). The Division (now School) of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) was especially expansive (from 50 positions to 72). In contrast, life-sciences faculty members remained nearly constant before increasing just in the last year (from 76 to 85) and physical sciences also remained relatively stable (from 92 to 106).

  • Space. Knowles attributes the disciplinary distribution of recent appointments in significant part to Harvard’s ability to accommodate newcomers. Barker Center welcomed additional humanities scholars. The Center for Government and International Studies did likewise for many social-sciences departments. SEAS stretched out in the new Maxwell-Dworkin facility. FAS’s current building boom focuses on life- and physical-sciences laboratories, portending long-sought growth in those disciplines.

“Our decisions about faculty hiring are also influenced by new areas of scholarship and…research,” Knowles writes. “This is especially true in the sciences….” A chart from his letter, adapted here, shows that after the recent hiring wave, only 26 percent of FAS members are in the natural sciences—a lower proportion than at peer schools.

So the stage is set—in intellectual, physical, and fiscal terms—for Knowles’s successor to oversee a period of more normal growth in FAS positions, albeit with much greater emphasis on “the sciences and engineering” in the immediate future. In heading that way, Knowles writes, the faculty should keep in mind both the changing nature of scientific research and “the need to refresh our approach to teaching and pedagogy in science”—meaning more hands-on research experiences, better “engagement” for nonconcentrators (who studiously avoid science beyond the less demanding Core curriculum courses), and enhancements in graduate education.

In sketching this future, Knowles is at pains to keep humanities and social-science faculty members from discouragement. Even as fewer new positions are added (mostly in science and engineering), he points out, FAS must make 120 renewal appointments by 2010—ample opportunity to welcome new colleagues and refresh scholarship.

He also aims to focus FAS on the goals of the faculty overall, including: real research experiences for every undergraduate; “more frequent, and mutually more engaging” student-faculty interactions; less attrition among would-be science concentrators; better general education; clearer expectations and incentives for teaching; and more opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration. Knowles urges FAS to set such goals and measure its performance because, he concludes, “Very many universities have begun sternly to scrutinize their present, and imaginatively to shape their future. We must do no less ourselves, now.”

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