Harvard has authorized three faculty candidates specializing in ethnic studies for appointment, a significant step in its long-running cluster hire for professors in the field, Dean of Social Science Lawrence D. Bobo said in an interview Friday.
Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Claudine Gay announced the search for three to four senior faculty in Latinx, Asian American, and Muslim studies in June 2019, with a goal of completion by the end of the 2019-2020 academic year, but it has been plagued by delays.
Bobo said the FAS has “moved ahead” with four potential senior candidates, three of whom have been authorized for appointment.
“We’re in that complicated process of trying to persuade people to come and they’re all truly terrific people,” he said. “I’m optimistic we’re going to be successful with this, then we will begin to feel like a very different place and a really exciting place in this arena.”
“It’s taking a little longer than all of us would like, but we’re at a very good place,” Bobo added.
After a weathering a series of crises over faculty diversity and sexual harassment in recent years, Bobo said his division is “headed in the right direction.”
“Things are all at the moment, from my vantage point, headed in the right direction, though cultural transformation is an ongoing process,” he said.
Bobo said his office has supported departments in undertaking climate reviews and working through issues brought to light.
“All of our departments in the division have engaged in a process of climate surveys in order to take stock of where we stand now, where we seem to still have problems, and what we might do to now plan on strategies for moving forward and keeping this momentum toward a strong commitment to inclusive excellence as just a durable feature of our culture in all of our departments,” he said.
He highlighted the work of the Government and Anthropology departments to conduct “intensive self-study and examination.”
“The [Government] department has internally introduced some reforms to greatly mitigate, you know, mitigate against the possibility of any such trouble occurring again,” he said. “I feel confident that they are taking this — certainly absolutely the leadership of the department — takes the obligations here and the need to set a certain tone with the utmost seriousness and dedication.”
In July, Harvard permitted Economics professor Roland G. Fryer Jr. to conditionally return to teaching and research roles after a two-year suspension for violating sexual harassment policies.
Bobo said Fryer’s return to teaching — which is subject to certain restrictions — has gone “swimmingly well.”
“I think [Fryer] has handled it well for his part, so has the department, and to my knowledge at least — and I do regularly check in on this — there are no problems or concerns there,” he said.
Bobo also said he believes Harvard has progressed in diversifying its faculty, but that there is still work to be done.
The departure of Cornel R. West ’74 — after the University allegedly denied his request to be considered for tenure — generated controversy last spring over the treatment of Black scholars at Harvard.
“You’re talking about a university where essentially the CEO of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences — the crown jewel of Harvard University — is an African American woman, where we’ve had an African American Dean of the College, where we’ve had four African American women deans of the major units at the wider Harvard University,” Bobo said. “It seems to me, frankly, the criticism in many respects is overwrought.”
Still, Bobo said he does not believe Harvard is in a uniquely poor position to promote a diverse and inclusive culture within higher education.
“If you were to ask me, ‘Does Harvard face some acute problem and a problem that puts it in a more difficult position than, say, other institutions of higher education?’” Bobo said. “I would say no.”
“I think we feel, on the whole, fully included, full members of the team, recognizing that there's a lot of work to do to make sure all of our scholarly academic units better represent African Americans and the Latinx and Asian American experience,” he added.
Bobo said he feels “truly blessed” to be a part of the division, citing the recent hiring of two senior faculty members — Gabriella B. Coleman in Anthropology and Jesse M. Shapiro ’01 in Economics — as well as the division’s new podcast and symposia series.
“We’re still attracting, without a doubt, the very best scholars and providing the sort of leadership and impact that I think we can all certainly be proud of,” he said.
—Staff writer Kate N. Guerin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.