Thursday, November 21, 2002

Via Kieran Healey,CalPundit's comment on the fact that Harvard English has never tenured a woman from within. (CalPundit also refers to the tenure process as taking "about five years," which is too short. If I get tenure, it won't be until the middle of my seventh year, and I think Harvard takes a little longer than that.) But the thing is that Harvard (like Yale) almost never tenures from within; its junior faculty have to stop off elsewhere, get tenure, get famous, and then be hired back again. This is less true of early-peaking and early-productivity fields such as math, econ, and some technical areas of philosophy. It's almost always true in the social sciences, and asymptotically approaches always being true in most of the humanities (and the more humanistic social sciences, i.e. political theory). Harvard History is notorious for having refused tenure to many of the finest minds in the discipline.

And then there's the fact that faculty openings don't come along all the time. In the couple of decades since Harvard ceased actively discriminating against women in hiring, Harvard English might have had fewer than a dozen assistant professors come up for tenure at all. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that no assistant professor of English had been tenured from within at Harvard in 30 years or so.

I don't mean to deny that some Harvard departments-- and for all I know these include English-- have a gender problem. Many of the very senior faculty are still holdovers from the bad old days. As Kieran and CalPundit should both know, an ideological commitment to gender theory, feminist postmodernism, queer theory, and all the rest is perfectly compatible with plain old-fashioned sexism (or homophobia) as a personal trait. Academia is filled with the type (and they're thick on the ground in David Lodge novels to boot). But the evidence for sexism in a Harvard department isn't that they don't tenure women from within. It's got to come from evidence about hiring from outside (either junior or senior faculty), about the treatment of grad students, and about the treatment of women faculty while they're there.

Someone I know was hired at Harvard for what s/he took to be a long-term adjunct position, because the ad said "three-year contract renewable" rather than "tenure track." When told that the job was a regular assistant professorship, my acquaintance inquired as to why the ad was written that way. "We don't like to even use the phrase tenure-track, since it's basically misleading at Harvard," was the answer.

UPDATE: A correspondent from Harvard social sciences writes:
I don't have university wide statistics, but I think the situation is
changing fairly rapidly. In my department, [...], and in my subfield,
[...], there are basically 6 tenured professors (not counting two very,very
senior faculty about to be emeritus). Of these 6, 4 were promoted from
within the department's untenured ranks. Only 1 person coming up through the
ranks in IR in the last 9-10 years that I have been here has been denied
tenure. 3 left the department before their tenure processes began, 2 of whom
left well before there could have been any signals one way or the other from
the senior faculty about tenure chances. So over all, I think our department
is doing pretty well with internal promotions, certainly compared to English
or History. I think under the new president internal promotion will be more
common. [NB: THe Wall Street Journal reported last year that Summers plans
to push hard on this issue. JTL] Harvard still doesn't refer to 'tenure-track' but we are
now hiring junior faculty pretty much on the assumption that if all goes well they will
be seriously considered for tenure. In our department, at least, the bad old
days of hiring and spitting out junior faculty are disappearing.

As far as the old system goes, CalPundit had already blogged his recognition of it, which I ahdn't noticed when I wrote this post.

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