The Faculty Resumes Growing

But the annual trends report shows surprising reliance on non-ladder faculty in the classroom, and continuing struggles with diversity.

Cover of Harvard faculty trends report
Cover of Harvard faculty trends reportCover courtesy of Harvard Office for Faculty Affairs

The 2021-2022 report on faculty trends, one of two parts of Dean Claudine Gay’s annual report to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), released today, shows modest growth in the professorial ranks, after pandemic-induced shrinkage. But it also contains surprising information on just how much teaching depends on colleagues who are not tenured or on the tenure track (“non-ladder” faculty in FAS’s terminology)—and details continuing struggles to diversify ladder-faculty searches below the level of tenured appointments. 

The Professoriate: Size and Teaching Roles

For academic year 2022-2023, the report shows, FAS has 723 ladder-faculty members (those who hold tenured positions, and assistant and associate professors on the tenure track). This reflects a modest rebound from the 709 (originally reported as 711) in the prior year: a total depressed by the suspension of many searches at the outset of the pandemic in the spring of 2020—accompanied by retirements, moves to other institutions, unsuccessful promotion reviews, and deaths (which together reduced the census by 34 during the ensuing academic year).

The recovery to 723 ladder-faculty members is perhaps somewhat ahead of expectations. Last year, Nina Zipser, dean for faculty affairs and planning, suggested that ramped-up recruiting would bring the cohort back to about 720 over the course of a couple of years, given normal lags in conducting searches and making appointments, offset by normal rates of attrition.

 The prevailing pattern, however, remains intact:

•the ladder-faculty census rose robustly in the first decade of the millennium (from 638 in academic year 2004-2005 to 726 in 2011-2012, reflecting the pipeline of searches and appointments in place);

•then stabilized, reflecting the constraints put in place following the Great Recession and tightening of budgets across the University, ranging from 713 to 724 positions in the next three years;

•resumed growing, to a peak of 739 in 2018-2019; and

•then, during the height of the pandemic, declined to the lowest level since 2008-2009. 

Thus, overall, FAS’s core ladder faculty population has barely budged since the beginning of the previous decade.

A shift toward the sciences. Within this essentially level census for the past 15 years, the pattern of gradual changes in disciplinary emphasis remains intact. According to data provided by Zipser’s office, from 2004-2005 to the current year, as the number of ladder faculty rose 13 percent (from 638 to 723), FAS continued to skew more toward sciences and engineering and applied sciences, with the number of professors in the latter divisions rising from 32 percent to 40 percent of the whole (rounding to 100 percent):

•arts and humanities, from 192 (30 percent in 2004-2005) to 195 (27 percent in 2022-2023);

•social science, from 237 (37 percent) to 242 (33 percent);

•science, from 149 (23 percent) to 199 (28 percent); and

•engineering and applied sciences, from 60 (9 percent) to 87 (12 percent). 

•The number of non-ladder faculty has risen by 44 percent, to 356 full-time equivalents in the current year (including renewable senior non-ladder members: professor of the practice, senior lecturers, and senior preceptors) and a large cohort of term-limited appointees (lecturers and preceptors). According to the report, that large increase in such teaching appointees reflects:

•the College Fellows Program (begun in 2009-2010, during the Great Recession, which supports post-doctoral scholars who are strongly committed to teaching);

•growing demand for large, introductory life sciences and physical sciences courses, which use large numbers of non-ladder teachers;

•the non-tenure-track Benjamin Peirce Fellows in mathematics, who were assistant professors before the tenure track was established in 2005, and are now non-ladder appointees; and

•growth in enrollment in introductory mathematics courses, who use many non-ladder faculty.

FAS’s plan, according to the report, is “to strategically grow the ladder faculty while keeping the non-ladder faculty relatively flat.” After a decade-plus of constrained ladder-faculty growth, such a shift would re-emphasize tenured and tenure-track professors’ role in Harvard teaching, even as changes in student interest and other factors have resulted in relatively greater instruction by appointees who do not also have the research and other roles associated with full, assistant, and associate professorships.

Following Zipser’s presentation on this point, a faculty member inquired about increasing reliance on teachers who hold what appear to be adjunct status, rather than regular faculty positions, which she called “a tremendous wound to research universities,” which prepare graduate students for academic careers. Zipser emphasized that FAS’s plan is to hold the ranks of non-ladder faculty level, and to increase the ladder-faculty ranks. Among non-ladder faculty, she noted, the majority are full-time staff who receive full employee benefits, rather than living course-by-course (the precarious status of most adjuncts in American higher education today).

Faculty Diversity

The report’s data on faculty demographics show that the tenure-track faculty is more diverse by gender and by race/ethnicity than the tenured ranks:

•Women: tenured faculty, 29 percent; tenure-track faculty, 47 percent.

•Race/ethnicity: tenured faculty, 77.6 percent white, 5.5 percent black/African American, 2.8 percent Hispanic/Latinx, 13.1 percent Asian/Asian American, two or more races 0.9 percent; tenure-track faculty, 58.5 percent white, 7.7 percent black/African American, 7.0 percent Hispanic/Latinx, 23.9 percent Asian/Asian American, 0.7 percent American Indian/Alaskan native, 2.1 percent two or more races.

But a troubling matter raised in Zipser’s report last year is re-emphasized: “When we compare the racial and ethnic composition of tenure-track offers to the Ph.D. pipeline” (that is, the number of rising candidates for academic appointments), “we are clearly underutilizing the diversity of the pipeline. In particular, Historically Underrepresented students are less likely to apply to Harvard than is indicated by their representation in the pipeline….” (emphasis added). To the extent that offers to those cohorts are concentrated at the tenured level, FAS is not tapping the more diverse pools of candidates now preparing for academia—suggesting continued challenges within the faculty’s search processes and candidates’ perceptions about the desirability or feasibility of seeking positions at Harvard. Speaking to the faculty at the FAS meeting, she said, “We are clearly missing out on quite a bit of talent as people are not applying” for Harvard positions—a challenge to be met by reaching out more effectively, and creating a culture that results in a “virtuous cycle” of recruiting, hiring, and retention.

Unequal workloads. One reason the latter may be so lies within the recent work of Dean Gay’s Faculty Workload Committee (FWC). As highlighted in Zipser’s faculty-trends report today, the FWC found “an increasing and unsustainable amount of non-research work” (such as advising; mentoring; administrative tasks; and contributions to diversity, inclusion, and belonging efforts) expected of FAS faculty members. Critically, that “non-research work is inequitably distributed across faculty” (emphasis added). For instance, “women serve on more committees and advise more graduate students than men.” 

Given an understandable desire, for example, to make sure that committees are diverse, where women or historically underrepresented faculty members make up a small portion of a departmental or other group, they are likely to face proportionally greater demands for such service. As the FWC found, “faculty who do more non-research work do so across multiple domains. Unequal distribution of work engenders an environment in which some faculty benefit at the expense of others who sacrifice both their research time and their work-life balance.” For tenure-track faculty members, of course, the loss of research time is inimical, to say the least, to becoming eligible for appointment to a tenured professorship.


Presenting statistics on the faculty’s composition, as this and recent faculty-trends reports have done; highlighting how searches are conducted and identifying the actual applicants for Harvard openings; documenting professors’ work expectations once here; and further extending professional development for all faculty members—all within the scope of faculty affairs—are all part of the enabling the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to construct the best professoriate of the future.

Read the full faculty trends report here. Dean Gay’s brief remarks to the faculty, and the financial report, are covered here.


Read more articles by John S. Rosenberg

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