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As Bacow Prepares to Exit, 41 Percent of Surveyed Harvard Faculty Say They are Satisfied with His Performance

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A plurality of Harvard faculty are satisfied with outgoing University President Lawrence S. Bacow’s tenure in office so far, according to The Crimson’s annual survey of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences conducted in April.

Just under 41 percent of surveyed faculty members said they are somewhat or extremely satisfied with Bacow’s tenure — down seven points from last year. This year, nearly 40 percent of faculty respondents indicated they are neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with his job performance, while just under 20 percent said they are somewhat or extremely dissatisfied.

Bacow announced last week — after the survey was conducted — that he plans to step down in June 2023.

Bacow’s rating was lower than that of FAS Dean Claudine Gay, whose satisfaction rating was 52 percent, according to the survey. Less than 20 percent of surveyed faculty said they were dissatisfied with Gay.

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The Crimson distributed its survey to more than 1,100 members of the FAS and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, polling tenured, tenure-track, and non-tenure track faculty on their demographics, academic life, and viewpoints on other issues, including Harvard governance.

The 111-question survey garnered 476 responses, including 333 that were complete and 143 that were partially filled out. The anonymous survey, a link to which was emailed to nearly every member of the FAS, was open from April 11 to April 26. The Crimson did not adjust the data for possible selection bias.

The first, second, and third installments of The Crimson’s 2022 faculty survey explored faculty views on sexual harassment, Covid-19 response, and tenure, respectively. This fourth installment examines how faculty evaluate the tenures of Bacow, Gay, and Harvard’s standing within higher education.

University Leadership

Bacow has led the University through the Covid-19 pandemic and the political strife that defined former President Donald J. Trump’s final two years in office.

Roughly 31 percent of faculty respondents said they believe Bacow has represented their interests well, while roughly 40 percent said they neither disagree nor agree with the statement. Just over 28 percent of respondents strongly or somewhat disagreed that Bacow has represented their interests well.

Ladder faculty respondents were more likely to report satisfaction with Bacow’s job performance. Just over half of ladder respondents indicated they are satisfied with his tenure, compared to just under 30 percent of non-ladder respondents. A plurality of non-ladder respondents — 49 percent — reported feeling ambivalent about his performance.

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Only 20 percent of non-ladder respondents said Bacow represents their interests well, compared to nearly 43 percent of ladder respondents. Additionally, 34 percent of non-ladder respondents said Bacow does not represent their interests well, compared to 21 percent of ladder respondents.

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In response to an open-ended question asking what Bacow should focus on during the rest of his tenure, faculty offered a broad range of suggestions.

Many respondents highlighted job security as an important agenda item for Bacow. Some advocated for eliminating time-capped appointments or extending term limits for non-tenure-track faculty, as well as raising pay and improving employment security for staff, graduate students, and non-ladder faculty. More broadly, some respondents wrote they would like Bacow to promote campus diversity by hiring and granting tenure to faculty of color and supporting first-generation low-income individuals.

Numerous faculty urged Bacow to make climate change a priority for the University.

A few faculty members argued that Harvard lacks ideological diversity, calling on Bacow to encourage open debate and protect academic freedom. One respondent wrote that Bacow should restore “the reputation of universities as disinterested seekers of truth rather than left-wing indoctrination and propaganda outlets.”

Harvard spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain declined to comment.

FAS Governance

More than a quarter of faculty respondents said they are extremely satisfied with Gay’s job performance, and nearly 27 percent indicated they are somewhat satisfied. Around 13 percent of respondents said they are somewhat dissatisfied and 6 percent of respondents said they are extremely dissatisfied.

Ladder faculty were more likely to be satisfied with Gay’s tenure thus far than were non-ladder faculty. More than 66 percent of ladder faculty respondents reported satisfaction with Gay’s job performance, compared to just under 38 percent of non-ladder faculty respondents.

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Forty-four percent of respondents somewhat or strongly agreed that Gay has represented their interests well, while 31 percent were ambivalent, and 25 percent somewhat or strongly disagreed.

Ladder faculty were also more likely to believe their interests were well-represented by Gay. Among ladder faculty respondents, nearly 56 percent said Gay has represented their interests well; among non-ladder faculty respondents, less than 33 percent indicated the same.

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Responding to an open-ended question asking what Gay should prioritize in the next years of her term, many wrote the FAS should provide better support and improve job security for non-tenure-track faculty — similar to the responses for Bacow. Others called for the FAS to prioritize faculty diversity.

The FAS holds monthly meetings during the school year where faculty discuss campus issues and vote on legislation. Nearly 64 percent of ladder faculty respondents said they have attended an FAS meeting in the past six months. But over 60 percent of ladder faculty respondents said they believe faculty meetings are not an effective forum for faculty to express their interests.

Asked to explain their reasoning, many faculty wrote that faculty meetings are often intimidating and largely scripted, limiting free and meaningful discussion. Some added that the discussions are often dominated by a small, non-representative sample of faculty members.

FAS spokesperson Rachael Dane declined to comment.

Harvard’s Standing Within Higher Education

A plurality of faculty respondents – nearly 48 percent — indicated they believe Harvard’s standing within higher education has stayed the same over the past decade. Just under 43 percent of faculty respondents believe the University’s standing within higher education has fallen.

Only 9 percent of respondents believe Harvard’s standing has risen.

Faculty were split on whether the school is the best educational institution in the U.S.: 38 percent of respondents said it is not, compared to 36 percent who said it is.

Furthermore, 32 percent of respondents somewhat or strongly agreed that Harvard is the best educational institution in the world, while 41 percent indicated they disagree.

Nearly 58 percent of respondents somewhat or strongly agreed the humanities are in decline at Harvard.

Methodology

For its 2022 Faculty Survey, The Crimson collected electronic responses through Qualtrics, an online survey platform, from April 11 to 26, 2022. A link to the anonymous survey was sent to 1,182 FAS and SEAS faculty members through emails sourced in March 2022 from Harvard directory information. The pool included individuals on Harvard’s Connections database with FAS affiliations, including tenured, tenure-track, and non-tenure track faculty.

Of those faculty, 492 faculty members accessed the link, and 476 participants answered at least one question. A total of 333 participants fully completed the survey.

To check for potential response bias, The Crimson compared respondent demographics with publicly available information on faculty demographics provided by the University — information regarding gender, race and ethnicity, SEAS affiliation, and ladder versus non-ladder status. Overall, the respondents to the survey were in line with the demographics of the broader faculty.

Of survey respondents, 42 percent identified themselves as women, and 25 percent identified themselves as faculty of color. Based on data in the 2021 FAS Dean’s Annual Report, women and faculty of color make up 39 and 26 percent of FAS faculty, respectively.

According to the report, 42 percent of the FAS are senior non-ladder, non-ladder, or visiting faculty. Among the respondents to The Crimson’s faculty survey, 49 percent indicated that they are non-ladder faculty.

Of faculty who were sent the link to the survey, 140 — or 12 percent — are affiliated with SEAS. In comparison, of respondents who indicated their divisional affiliation on the survey, 7 percent reported an affiliation with SEAS.

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

—Staff writer Meimei Xu can be reached at meimei.xu@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @MeimeiXu7.

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