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FAS Talks Climate Initiative, Faculty Workload at First In-Person Meeting Since 2020

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Members of Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences gathered in the Science Center Tuesday for their first in-person meeting since February 2020.

The FAS discussed a range of issues including a cluster hire for climate scholars, a report on faculty workload, Harvard’s new mental health campaign, and an upcoming change in their dental insurance plan.

Though University President Lawrence S. Bacow typically leads faculty meetings, FAS Dean Claudine Gay took charge on Tuesday, saying Bacow was “under the weather.”

On the docket for Tuesday’s meeting was a presentation from Vice Provost for Climate and Sustainability James H. Stock on the vision and priorities for the newly established Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability.

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In June, the University announced the establishment of the Salata Institute, funded by a $200 million donation from Melanie Salata and Jean E. Salata. Stock has been charged with directing the institute.

Gay said during Tuesday’s meeting that the launch of the institute “signals Harvard’s commitment to bringing its academic resources to bear on the existential challenge of climate change.”

“We have an opportunity both to partner with other Schools and the Institute and to capitalize on our unique strengths and identities — chief among them, our academic breadth,” she said Tuesday.

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In a June email to all FAS department chairs, Gay announced the launch of a cluster hire for up to three senior appointments for scholars in environment, climate, and sustainability. She called on all departments to identify and nominate individuals for consideration in the hire.

Stock emphasized the importance of working across academic disciplines to address climate issues, referring to a University report issued last month on the future of Harvard’s climate education.

Gay also discussed the FAS Faculty Workload Committee’s report, which she shared with the faculty at the end of last month. The Faculty Workload Committee was convened in fall 2021 as part of the FAS Strategic Planning process to assess faculty workload expectations and the distribution of responsibilities within and across departments.

According to the report, the Committee found that there is an “increasing and unsustainable” amount of non-research work expected of faculty and that non-research work is distributed inequitably across faculty. To address the concerns, it recommended that the FAS look into where work can be eliminated, streamlined, or delegated to administrative staff. The report also suggested the FAS establish clear expectations about the amount of non-research work that faculty should take on.

Harvard University Health Services Director Giang T. Nguyen also provided faculty members with a public health update.

He began by describing Harvard’s new telehealth services and mental health awareness campaign. Encouraging faculty to stay informed on Harvard’s mental health resources, Nguyen pointed to the Crimson Folder, a school-specific document outlining how to recognize and assist a student in distress. He added that faculty will receive training on how to support students in need.

Professor of the Arts Vijay Iyer raised concerns about the privacy of students who utilize campus mental health resources. He said he would like to refer his students to resources, but he finds it difficult to reassure them that their records will be kept in confidence.

In response, Nguyen talked about University, state, and federal regulations protecting the privacy and security of health records.

The first faculty meeting of the academic year was marked by a change in venue: faculty meetings before the pandemic were typically hosted in University Hall. The shift in location, according to Gay, was “carefully considered.”

Subsequent meetings will be held on Zoom, except for the final meeting of the year, which will take place in Sanders Theater.

—Staff writer Meimei Xu contributed reporting.

—Staff writer Ariel H. Kim can be reached at ariel.kim@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @ArielH_Kim.

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