GAZETTE: Can you talk about the recommendation that puts added responsibility on senior tenure-track faculty as partners and supporters of the process?
HOEKSTRA: Arguably one of the most important processes we participate in and decisions we make as faculty is who will be our lifelong colleagues to conduct research and service as well as teach, mentor, and advise our students. It’s important that our senior colleagues are both fully engaged in the process — and also have and provide as much relevant information to make the most informed views and decisions. For example, we recommended completely rethinking the way internal letters — those from Harvard colleagues — are used. At present, the letters are completely open-ended, which doesn’t always result in gathering useful information and can set the stage for biases to creep in. Not surprisingly, there’s a huge diversity of cultures across divisions and departments about how faculty in those different units engage with the internal letters. We recommended that the FAS adopt a standardized template with specific questions to both provide context to the thoughts shared, to focus on eliciting the information most relevant to the case, and to minimize — or perhaps identify — any bias. So, this was a way to make internal feedback more standard and to elicit the information that we felt was important for colleagues and administrators to have further along in the process. We also hope this will further engage our tenured colleagues over time, to spark a cultural shift.
GAZETTE: How will defining a candidate’s field help improve Harvard’s tenure process?
HOEKSTRA: Perhaps surprisingly, defining what field somebody is in ends up being a key part of the review process. The field definition provides guidance about which external experts may be asked to share their assessment of the candidate’s accomplishments and to help review committees understand how a candidate’s accomplishments fit into and impacted a particular area of scholarship (as well as neighboring fields). Three examples of recommendations we made in this area: First, and perhaps most important, we wanted to explicitly make space for the viewpoint of the candidate to help contextualize their accomplishments. They know their area of impact better than anyone else; they can best explain how their work may be interdisciplinary or challenge the norms in a given field. Second, we recommended additional flexibility for colleagues whose work is, for example, interdisciplinary. Arguably, some of the most exciting work happens at the boundaries of disciplines. Our current system is designed to review colleagues who work within traditional field boundaries, but is more complicated when scholars create new fields, work in emerging fields, or span multiple fields. Finally, we recommended the review committee continue to work iteratively with the offices of the divisional dean and the FAS dean, which have ample experience with case statements, to avoid missteps in defining the field, either making it too broad or too narrow, starting early at the second-year review.
GAZETTE: Can you discuss the committee’s goal to allow for increased flexibility in the processes across the divisions?
HOEKSTRA: Tenure track must function for all units across the FAS and for the varied research expertise of their faculty. We felt it was important to allow for some flexibility, in cases in which it was well justified, while recognizing the importance of standardization. For example, we thought carefully about interdisciplinary scholars, as well as those in new or emerging fields, and decided that allowing for different sets or types of external letter-writers may yield the most relevant information regarding the accomplishments and impact of that scholar.
GAZETTE: How do you think these recommendations will help Harvard attract and retain women and faculty of color?
HOEKSTRA: We’ve thought a lot about ways in which bias may creep into the tenure-track system. We engaged with [FAS Associate Dean of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging] Sheree Ohen. We spoke with the chair of the Standing Committee on Women to try to get different viewpoints. We listened to concerns raised by our colleagues. We considered bias in every step of the process and with every recommendation we made. Thus, throughout the report, there are many examples in which we highlight how the current system may differentially impact both women and faculty of color.
For example, we really felt like service needs to be a separate component of the review dossier. Because the typical service load varies so much, both among departments and among divisions, we recommended that candidates, in their own voice, include a statement about service. The same is true for advising and mentoring. So again, hearing directly, not just interpreting from a CV, any “extra” load some faculty carry, and allowing them to have a voice in explaining their contributions. I think that’s one manifestation of thinking more carefully about our female faculty and colleagues of color.
We also thought carefully about the timing of a tenure decision. While there’s a perception that we tenure much later than peer institutions, in fact, often we tenure at the same time as peer institutions, sometimes later — a year — and, in some cases, a little bit earlier. Specifically, we discussed how tenure time may affect women and faculty of color. Some of our colleagues from diverse backgrounds may need more time to learn Harvard’s system, may need more time to network, to make important connections in their fields. Colleagues who are developing new fields, shaking up the current norms, or working across typical field boundaries may need time to have an impact. This was something we talked about a lot, and it informed our recommendation to not shorten the time to tenure.
GAZETTE: Dean Gay will begin implementing these recommendations very soon. Where do you think it needs to begin to be successful?
HOEKSTRA: We provided a large number of recommendations, some straightforward and others more complex. I think that both where it needs to begin and what may be the biggest challenge is simply educating our colleagues — about what the recommendations are and, equally importantly, why those recommendations are in place. The process needs to be as transparent as possible; we tried very hard to do this is our report. Then, we need to ensure that both the current system and the recommended changes are implemented in a consistent way — across departments and divisions. Information and implementation are key. That has to be both the starting and ending point.
The Daily Gazette
Sign up for daily emails to get the latest Harvard news.