Faculty of Arts and Sciences Lacks Confidence in Harvard’s Governing Boards, Per Survey


Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences has largely lost confidence in the University’s governing boards ahead of a crucial presidential search, according to The Crimson’s annual FAS survey.

A majority of respondents said they were dissatisfied with the actions and structure of the two governing bodies — the Harvard Corporation and the Board of Overseers — and called for increased transparency.

A plurality also said they lacked confidence that the Corporation, the University’s top governing board, could select a president capable of righting the ship after a period of turmoil.

These results come as Corporation members prepare to host an unprecedented town hall with FAS faculty on Tuesday. Meanwhile, a group of prominent professors across Harvard is pushing to create a faculty senate, motivated by what they call an “absence” of faculty involvement in making University-wide decisions.


Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote in an email that Corporation members have conducted outreach to Harvard affiliates in recent months, “including a meeting with the FAS Faculty Council and the upcoming FAS faculty town hall, in addition to various informal conversations.”

“Those engagement efforts will continue and increase in the time ahead,” Newton added.

In most cases, Harvard’s governing boards operate behind the scenes, avoiding attention — even from most faculty — except to select top leadership, supervise, and fundraise. But this winter, they were front and center.

The opaque Corporation was thrust into the spotlight last semester, facing backlash over how it handled the end of Claudine Gay’s presidency — including her now-infamous congressional testimony and allegations of plagiarism in her academic work.

The boards’ leaders have been accused of being soft on campus antisemitism by Congress, with House Republicans subpoenaing Corporation Senior Fellow Penny S. Pritzker ’81 as part of an investigation into antisemitism at Harvard. Board members have also seen high-dollar donors pull their support from the University over antisemitism on campus.

Now, the survey suggests the Corporation and the Overseers have failed to win the trust of another critical constituency: faculty members looking to become increasingly assertive in University governance.

The Crimson’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences survey was distributed to more than 1,400 members of the FAS, including tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty — with members’ names collected from its publicly accessible masthead. Members of the FAS were polled on demographic information, politics, and campus issues.

The email survey received 508 responses, of which 310 were fully completed and 198 were partially completed. It was open for two weeks, from April 3 to April 17.

This is the second installment in a series of pieces on the survey results. The first installment focused on faculty views on the conflict in Gaza and systemic bias at Harvard. This installment explores faculty perspectives on the highest levels of University governance.

Faculty Approval

A 63.3 percent majority of respondents expressed some level of dissatisfaction in “the actions” of Harvard’s governing bodies: 33.6 percent said they were “somewhat dissatisfied,” while 29.7 percent answered that they were “very dissatisfied.”

In comparison, only 8.8 percent of respondents said they were “somewhat satisfied” with the boards, while 27.3 percent expressed no opinion.

Only two respondents out of 330 who answered the question — a mere 0.6 percent — said they were “very satisfied” by the governing boards’ actions.


“Faculty (within FAS, at least) have no confidence that the members of the Corporation have any understanding of the issues that we deem most urgent, let alone why we deem them urgent,” Philosophy professor Edward J. “Ned” Hall wrote in a March 6 statement about the Corporation town hall with the FAS.

“There are no clear channels of communication, and, from what I can see, there is a fair amount of frustration at this lack,” he added in a texted statement.

An overwhelming majority of respondents shared Hall’s desire for increased communication: 50 percent of respondents said they “strongly agree” that the Harvard Corporation should be more transparent and another 29.8 percent said they “somewhat agree.”

Only 7.4 percent strongly or somewhat disagreed, while the remaining 12.9 percent abstained.


Though the Corporation selected Alan M. Garber ’76 to serve as interim president in January when Gay resigned, they have yet to launch a presidential search to select somebody to permanently fill the position and right the ship.

But even though the search is not yet underway, faculty respondents were skeptical that the Corporation could settle on a pick who can effectively restore stability to the University.

A 49.1 percent plurality of respondents say they lack confidence in the Corporation’s ability “to select a president that can steer Harvard out of its current period of turmoil.”

On the other hand, only 22.4 percent of respondents say they are confident in the Corporation’s ability to do so, while 28.5 percent of respondents said they neither had or lacked confidence.


Respondents also said faculty should be more involved in the presidential search — unusually an opaque process that consults with only a small committee of faculty advisers.

About 76.5 percent of respondents said they believed faculty are insufficiently involved in the presidential search process, compared to 23.2 percent who felt faculty were sufficiently involved and only 0.3 percent who felt faculty were too involved.

Respondents felt similarly about decision-making power even beyond the presidential search, largely saying they believed faculty should have a greater role in University-wide governance.

Nearly 80 percent of respondents said they believed faculty members should have “somewhat more” or “much more” decision-making power in the University’s governance, as opposed to 18 percent who felt current levels were acceptable and 2.5 percent who felt they should have less.


These critiques aligned with those made by the group of professors calling for a faculty senate at Harvard.

Harvard is “under-leveraging the commitment of the faculty to the mission of the organization, and potential for partnership with University leadership, including the Corporation, on behalf of the whole,” the professors wrote in a document circulated to colleagues.

There is currently no formal mechanism for faculty members at large to participate in University governance. However, Harvard periodically convenes task forces or working groups of faculty members to address specific issues.

The faculty were also critical of the current governance structure: 54.6 percent of respondents say they are dissatisfied with the structure of Harvard’s governance, while only 11 percent expressed approval. The remaining 34.4 percent reported no opinion.

China Studies professor William C. Kirby, a former FAS dean, argued in a Monday op-ed in The Crimson that the University’s governing boards need a deeper structural rethinking.

“As someone who has written on the governance of modern research universities from Germany to America to China, I know there is no perfect model,” Kirby wrote. “Yet we must strive for more open and accountable governance at Harvard.”


The 2024 edition of The Crimson’s annual faculty survey was conducted via Qualtrics, an online survey platform. The survey was open from April 3 to April 17.

A link to the anonymous survey was sent via email to 1,414 faculty in the FAS and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. The list comprised all faculty named on the FAS masthead for the current academic year, which includes FAS department and standing committee affiliates whose appointments are in other Harvard schools.

In total, 508 faculty responded to the survey, with 310 submitting fully completed responses and 198 submitting partial responses.

To check for response bias, The Crimson compared respondents’ self-reported demographic data with publicly available data on FAS faculty demographics for the 2023-24 academic year. (Unlike The Crimson’s survey, this data only includes faculty with FAS appointments.) The breakdown of survey responses was roughly in line with the demographic profile of the FAS.

More than 56 percent of respondents said they hold a tenure or tenure-track position, according to the survey. According to the FAS Dean’s 2023 Annual Report, 57.12 percent of FAS faculty are tenured or on the tenure track.

Among respondents who said they were tenured or tenure-track, 30.92 percent belong to the Arts and Humanities division, 27.10 percent to the Sciences division, 36.64 percent to the Social Sciences division, and 5.34 to the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

According to publicly available data for the 2023-24 academic year from Harvard’s Faculty Development and Diversity Office, 26.71 percent of tenured and tenure-track FAS faculty are in Arts and Humanities, 27.81 percent are in Sciences, 27.81 percent are in Social Sciences, and 12.88 percent are in SEAS.

The Crimson could not find public FAS data on the distribution of non-ladder faculty across the divisions.

Of respondents who identified their gender on the survey, 45.59 percent of respondents said they are female; among those who reported their race, 29.44 percent of respondents did not identify themselves as white (6.59 percent of respondents declined to identify their gender, and 14.3 percent declined to identify their race).

That compares to 39 percent of FAS faculty who are women and 27.6 percent who are not white, per the FAS Dean’s Report.

—Staff writer Tilly R. Robinson can be reached at Follow her on X @tillyrobin.

—Staff writer Neil H. Shah can be reached at Follow him on X @neilhshah15.