Bacow Discusses Importance of Academic Freedom at Year's Shortest Faculty Meeting


Daylight hours are getting shorter in Cambridge — and apparently, Faculty meetings are, too. At the last monthly meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences of the year on Tuesday, the Faculty voted to approve all items on the agenda in less than half an hour.

Before the docket items, University President Bacow spoke to the half-empty room about the importance of higher education in today’s political climate. He pointed to the recent announcement of the closing of Central European University in Budapest as “a result of an authoritarian government.” Bacow emphasized the importance of academic freedom, calling for Faculty to not take the liberty for granted.

“I’m concerned they represent a global shift in attitudes towards higher education,” Bacow said. “We need to stand up for the values in which institutions like this and many other institutions around the world are deeply rooted in, again, values of academic freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of press.”

The Faculty voted to slightly modify the new course schedule by adding new class start times at 12:45 p.m. and 3:45 p.m. FAS Registrar Michael P. Burke presented the changes, which he first introduced at November's Faculty meeting.


In a follow up to its November meeting, Burke reiterated to Faculty that the additional class start times aim to give students more time for lunch. Shortly after the new schedule started this fall semester, Harvard University Dining Services opened dining halls at 11:30 a.m., 30 minutes earlier than usual, to accommodate students who had classes beginning at noon.

“The rationale behind this was to stretch out the time during which a student can get lunch,” he said.

David Howell, chair of the Faculty Council Election Review Committee, reported to the Faculty the findings of the committee, which had been tasked to review election procedures three years after the rules were amended in 2015. The Faculty voted in November 2015 to streamline the election rules, which a report issued earlier that year had called “unnecessarily complicated” and “confusing.”

Now, the Faculty elects six new members to the Council each year — three to “At Large” seats and one to represent each of the three divisions within FAS.

The committee found that after the new rules were put in place, voter turnout increased and more faculty agreed to stand for election to the Council after being nominated. The committee recommended that the Faculty keep the new elections procedures in place.

The committee also proposed that the Faculty create a forum for non-ladder junior faculty to give input on faculty issues. One possible way in which the Faculty could do accomplish this goal is to “convene” a group to participate in FAS governance with a liaison member who attends Faculty Council meetings once or twice a year, Howell said.

The Faculty also voted to approve summer school courses for 2019.

Though the monthly Faculty meeting is scheduled for two hours, Tuesday’s meeting clocked in at just 25 minutes. Upon its conclusion, Bacow wished everyone a happy holiday season.

“This being the holiday season, we've given you the most precious gift — the gift of time,” he said.

—Staff writer Angela N. Fu can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @angelanfu.

—Staff writer Lucy Wang can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @lucyyloo22