FAS, Inc.

The Corporatization of Harvard's Largest School

FAS, Inc.
Jessica C. Salley

A growing divide between faculty and administration has left professors feeling estranged within their own school.

He just wanted to move a door.

The request was simple: A faculty member needed more space for a new graduate student. But when he wrote to the administrator he thought would be responsible for that, he was redirected to another administrator. He tried again; he was kicked to another administrator. And finally he got an answer back: It would be expensive, and it would take time.

So with two graduate students, the faculty member went to work himself. In 20 minutes, they unhinged the door. It had cost nothing.

This is the anecdote of one professor, who wished to remain anonymous to maintain his relationship with the administrators involved. But it is also part of a larger story. Over the past ten years, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences has seen a proliferation of its administrative positions that has outpaced the growth of tenure-track faculty. While this growth has led to greater efficiency and focus, it has also created a complex bureaucracy at Harvard’s largest school.

This “corporatization,” as many faculty members and even some administrators call the trend, is not unprompted. With more federal demand for research oversight and a once-quickly growing faculty, the school’s office workers were finding themselves with more paperwork on their desks, larger facilities to maintain, and an institutional reputation to protect.



FAS, Inc.

FAS, Inc.

But by the time FAS found itself with more than 3,000 administrators and staff, the transition had changed the culture of the school, according to many faculty members. They suggest that communication between professors and University Hall has diminished. There is a new door between faculty and administrators, and with every new assistant or associate dean, that door closes just a bit more. On one side are the hallways of a traditional, open academic institution. On the other lie the offices of FAS, Inc.


When William C. Kirby moved into his corner office on the second floor of University Hall as the new dean of FAS in 2002, departing FAS Dean Jeremy R. Knowles left him some advice. Managing the school’s more than 600 faculty without much intermediate support was too much for one dean—especially when the school desperately needed to hire more faculty. Before he joined as dean, Kirby remembers, one department in the life sciences had failed to attract nine of the last ten of its search candidates for senior faculty positions.

“For some time the governing boards had been encouraging the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to expand,” Kirby says. “There was a strong perception that we were in danger of falling seriously behind in several important fields.”

And so FAS expanded, and quickly. The school began multiplying its number of ladder faculty at the end of Knowles’ tenure as dean, and Kirby accelerated that hiring spree. From 2001 to 2008, 100 tenure-track faculty were added to the previous core of 619 professors. Initially, a single faculty dean presided over the entire operation. The Corporation, FAS administrators, and even faculty realized that this might no longer be practical.

“My sense was that too much rested on a single person in the form of the dean,” says Carol J. Thompson, former associate dean for academic affairs.

“You can’t have a single dean doing this,” says linguistics professor Jay H. Jasanoff ’63. “It requires competencies that most people don’t have.”

So Kirby decided early in his tenure to create a new network of deans that would operate below him: faculty divisional deans for the humanities, social science, life sciences, engineering, and physical sciences. Kirby hoped that these faculty deans would bring personal knowledge of research and teaching into the administration and also serve as ambassadors for the administration to their peers in departments.

Current FAS Dean Michael D. Smith, a tenured professor in computer science himself, meets weekly with the Academic Planning Group, composed of school and divisional deans; these faculty leaders regularly check in with their own department chairs. Smith says the communication between each layer of the administrative organization allows suggestions, thoughts, and concerns to ultimately make their way to him.

But the new divisional deans would foreshadow a slew of non-academic administrators in FAS.