Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Are the Resident Deans Faculty? Should They Be? Will They Be?

Are the Resident Deans of the Houses faculty? The question acquired a certain technical significance when the Globe reported that their email had been searched, because there is a special policy about privacy of faculty email. (See my previous post, Email Privacy at Harvard.) But the proposal for an honor code for undergraduates has raised the question of the faculty status of the Resident Deans in another context, because of the accompanying proposal that allegations regarding undergraduate academic integrity in the future be referred not to the Ad Board, which is made up largely of the RDs, but to a new Student-Faculty Judicial Board. It seems to me that this provision raises basic questions about the nature of the College and its educational mission.

Even though I had a hand in drafting the faculty email privacy policy, the attention given to its language and what exactly was meant by "faculty" has seemed to me exaggerated. I have tended to avoid comment on the "are RDs faculty?" issue, not because I was in doubt about it, but for several other reasons.

  • The policy was never well advertised, and I suspect that most faculty were not aware of it. Some of those who would have to respect it may not have known about it either, so I am not sure it is fair to made a federal case out of whether the rule was followed or broken.
  • The more important point seems to me to be whether it accords with prevailing community privacy values to search anyone's email, except for reasons related to litigation, fraud, or government requirements--and whether ordinary courtesy and respect would not call for informing those searched, either before or after the fact.
  • I did not want to get into the minutiae of the Resident Deans having administrative and teaching accounts, of which only the former were searched (which has in any case been mooted by the revelation that in the case of one individual, both accounts were searched).
  • I did this analysis for the benefit of a journalist a few weeks back, and wanted to respect his right to tell the story himself. The story never appeared, and I no longer feel bound to avoid the subject.
Now just as this technicality seems to be fading from significance, and the president has wisely asked a task force to draft a more encompassing privacy policy, the question of the status of the Resident Deans has popped up as part of the proposal that the faculty adopt an honor code for undergraduates. The proposed Student Faculty Judicial Board is actually a body that exists on paper but whose remit is so restricted that to date nothing has ever fallen under it. It seems to me inevitable that if the RDs are no longer the people adjudicating questions of academic integrity, the rationale for their having faculty status becomes much weaker. So I see the honor code proposal as starting to topple a row of dominoes, and I'd like to call attention, especially faculty attention, to the teetering balance in which those dominoes now stand.

Are the Resident Deans faculty, for the purpose of being captured under the "faculty email privacy policy"? The term is never defined, but at least in the discussions I remember (I was out of the picture by the time the policy was adopted), no one suggested that faculty who also have administrative positions would cease to be faculty for the purpose of the policy. But it's too simple to simply say "Resident Deans are faculty." Here is why.

There are thirteen Houses at Harvard. Each has a resident dean. Each of the resident deans of the Houses, right now, holds the rank of Lecturer in some subject or other. That is most definitely a faculty rank, not a high one but not the lowest either. I think most people would say that categories 4 through 12 on page 2 of the FAS Appointments Handbook are faculty and 13-14 are not. So the 13 RDs of the Houses are faculty. But there have been times when that was not the case. Sometimes the "other half" of an RD's appointment has been administrative rather than instructional. Sometimes an Acting RD has been a grad student finishing the PhD. So in those cases the RD would not have been faculty. Also, there are four Resident Deans of Freshmen. They are full-time staff and have no teaching appointment. They do not hold the rank of Lecturer or any other faculty rank. So one might say that it is contingently true that all the RDs of the Houses are faculty.

(Though it was once common to have ladder faculty as Senior Tutors -- Charles Maier in the History Department and John Hutchinson in SEAS both served as Senior Tutors and went on to get tenure -- the last ladder-rank Senior Tutor or Resident Dean was probably Sarolta Takacs in the late 1990s, then an Associate Professor of the Classics and now full professor at Rutgers after a stint as Dean of Sage College.)

What about the fact that the RDs got their faculty appointments only after and by virtue of their selection to be deans? This seems to me irrelevant--and belittling. The various departments and Committees vetted their credentials and certified them as worthy of appointment. When Harvard reports its student-faculty ratio to US News and World Report, I imagine that the RDs must be in the denominator. The root question would be whether they are counted as faculty in the so-called IPEDS data. It doesn't seem right to say that they would be faculty for the purposes that depend on the IPEDS data but somehow for other purposes they are not faculty.

One last note on this, to set straight a prevalent confusion. There is a very clearly defined category of "voting members of the Faculty" (with a capital F -- that is, of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences). There is no ambiguity about that category -- checkers stand at the door of the Faculty Room and make sure that everyone who enters a meeting of the Faculty is a voting member (or a specifically named guest). Now all four possibilities exist with respect to the overlap between faculty and voting members of the Faculty. Professors like me are both faculty and voting members of the Faculty. The Resident Deans of Freshmen are neither. Most Lecturers, though they are faculty, are not voting members of the Faculty; the Resident Deans of the Houses are specially granted voting rights they would not have simply by virtue of their being Lecturers. (Their voting membership in the Faculty means that they could, in principle, rise in an in camera meeting of the Faculty to discuss the situation of an individual student. That is unlikely to occur, but not impossible, at a degree meeting for example.) Finally, there are voting members of the Faculty who are not faculty -- for example, the Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, a full-time administrator who has been granted voting rights.

Eligibility to be elected as a member of the Faculty Council comes with voting membership, not with faculty status per se.

But why should the Resident Deans of the Houses be faculty? The history illuminates the rationale. I quote from the Report on the Structure of Harvard College, from 1994:

Minutes of faculty meetings from the nineteenth century suggest that as much time was devoted to the discipline of individual students as to anything else. In 1890 responsibility for ordinary discipline was delegated to an Administrative Board, "consisting of members of the Faculty"; serious disciplinary matters were still brought to the full Faculty, as occasionally happens even today. In 1929-30, on the eve of the opening of the first Houses, the Administrative Board consisted of the Dean of the College, five other professors, and the Dean of Freshmen. The Dean of Harvard College had four Assistant Deans responsible for individual students, grouped by class year (two for the Freshmen, one for Sophomores, and one for Juniors and Seniors). The four deans, called the "Chapter of Deans," met with the Dean of the College and the Registrar on Tuesday morning to prepare cases for the Tuesday afternoon meeting of the Administrative Board, at which final decisions were made. 
Though the establishment of the House system led to some changes in personnel, the composition of the Board did not change significantly until the Allston Burr Senior Tutor positions were created. The 1952-53 Dean's report describes the change as follows:
A member of the Faculty has been appointed Allston Burr Senior Tutor for each of the eight units. Relieved of one-half of his normal teaching load, he adds to those duties previously performed by Senior Tutors under the direction of the Masters the new responsibilities transferred from the Dean's Office. The Allston Burr Senior Tutors are all members of the Administrative Board of Harvard College. They have been given special responsibilities, in cooperation with the departments, for the organization of House-centered group tutorial as described below. Their position, it will be seen, is of the greatest importance as liaison and administrative officers, responsible both to the Masters and to the Faculty for the effective development of the individual House units within a unified educational structure for the whole College.
With this change the 1952-53 Administrative Board was comprised of the eight Allston Burr Senior Tutors (mostly teaching faculty), three members at large of the Faculty (tenured professors), and four administrative officers (the Registrar, the Dean of Freshmen, the Dean, and an Associate Dean), for a total of fifteen. 

They key words here are unified educational structure for the whole College. The Allston Burr Senior Tutors -- they were renamed Allston Burr Resident Deans a few years ago -- represent the academic enterprise in the Houses. In their role as advisor to students in the Houses, and in their membership on the Administrative Board with its combined responsibility for both academic integrity and personal behavior, they represent the continuity of scholarship with the rest of life in an academic community.

The 1980-81 report of the Dean of Harvard College explains the educational role of the Senior Tutor as a member of the Administrative Board. (To find this report, follow this link and then go to Sequence Number 19757.)
[T]he bulk of the Board's business is conducted  by the Senior Tutor in private conversations with the  student, before the case comes to the Board. …
The conferences between the student and the Senior  Tutor as the student prepares a statement for the Board are at the heart of the exchange between the student and the Board. The educational experience of coming to terms with one's actions, their consequences for others, and their significance for oneself, is the most intense form of moral education provided by the College. It is the role of the Senior Tutor in this process to encourage the student to reflect carefully on the circumstances surrounding the choices he has made and to help him  articulate the lessons they yield about himself. 
This is what is meant by the proposition that the Board is an educational rather than merely judicial body. It means that the Board, while respectful of equity (this report elsewhere covers that question in a nuanced way), may sometimes respond to identical infractions with different sanctions, the difference depending on how much the student has yet to learn from the experience. It explains why the structure of the Board is so different from ordinary courts, on campus or off -- for example, it is considered natural that the members know a great deal about the students who come before it, whereas in an ordinary judiciary the integrity of the process is supposed to be enhanced by excluding from the jury anyone with prior knowledge of the defendant.

The ideal of the Resident Deans being teaching faculty has been hard to sustain as the productivity demands on teaching faculty have gone up at places like Harvard. Addressing the growing divide between the teaching faculty and the day to day experience of undergraduate life was the broad agenda that Jeremy Knowles set me when he appointed me as the first faculty Dean of Harvard College in decades. Of course the Masters always bridged that divide, but it was part of my charge, as an element of this broad agenda, to reduce the number of Houses whose Senior Tutors were not faculty. They would, I hoped, bring their scholarly training to bear on the problem of educating the students in their Houses about the nature of an academic community and its standards. They would also, I hoped, act as ambassadors to their departments, and help push back against the faculty perception that the College was some kind of adolescent day care center, with huge resources being spent by specialized non-faculty staff on entertainments and diversions of no educational significance.

Sometime early in my deanship I persuaded Dean Knowles to pay for the "teaching halves" of Senior Tutors, so departments could make their decisions about giving them faculty appointments on the basis of academic merit, not budget. But that is a significant budgetary burden: 6.5 faculty FTEs. There have been inevitable pressures to use the "other halves" for internal administrative needs that have to be met anyway, rather than teaching in some department far from University Hall. I was glad to see that the most recent resurgence of that trend was pushed back, so all the "other halves" are again teaching appointments. In my experience, the RDs have always been good teachers and have taken their teaching roles seriously (to be sure, more seriously than certain professors who have referred cheating allegations to the Ad Board!).

If, as has been proposed in the academic integrity report, matters of academic integrity are moved out of the Ad Board, I very much doubt that the educational rationale for the Resident Deans to be teaching faculty will have enough force to be sustainable, given the significant cost.

(The proposal is actually that students be given the option of having their cases heard either by the SFJB or by the Ad Board. But the premise is that students don't trust the Ad Board and will prefer the SFJB because students are on it. There would be some kind of overlapping members hip to maintain "consistency." I suppose there is the possibility that the SFJB will continue to be a dead letter and the Ad Board will deal with everything it has dealt with all along, in which case this blog post will be the least of the things that will have been a waste of time about all this. So let's proceed on the assumption that the proposal not only passes the Faculty, but is successful in practice, and most academic integrity cases will no longer go to the Ad Board.)

Without academic integrity cases, the Ad Board's scope will be disciplinary cases (fistfights, sexual assaults, drunk and disorderly, etc.), matters of academic progress (students flunking out and being readmitted), and exceptions to rules (may I file my study card late because my sister is getting married, or because I am in the national croquet tournament). These cases present ample opportunity for mature conversations with students, and for fostering self-understanding. What they don't seem to me to call for is training as a scholar or membership in a departmental faculty group where community norms can be discussed with those who carry out most undergraduate instruction. Nothing in the academic integrity report suggests that any such change is planned or anticipated (and I haven't inquired). I just think, knowing how the world works, that those 6.5 FTE faculty lines will be reallocated to departments, some of which have been desperate to hire but unable to do so because of fiscal constraints. Or will perhaps just disappear, reducing the Faculty's red ink. Once the holism of the enterprise breaks down, the "unified educational structure of the whole College," the apparatus that implemented it will inevitably be scrutinized for costly and dispensable anachronisms.

At the same time, it is hard to imagine that a judicial board with undergraduate members would or could play the paternalistic educational role described for the Ad Board, sometimes moderating its sanction out of deference for a student's demonstrated self-understanding. There may well be more gained that lost by moving in the direction of the judicial model. For example, it is easier to explain how the same rules apply to everyone and the decisions are cut and dried than to stand behind doing some superficially inconsistent but deeply "right thing" for reasons no one can fully understand, except those who were in the room to hear the discussion. Perhaps student participation in the decision-making will improve student confidence in the outcomes. Perhaps it will improve the perceived or actual quality of the outcomes. It is hard to assess such questions of gain and loss. If student confidence in the disciplinary process remained low after this change had been made, it would not be the first time that one generation of students called for changes that the next generation turned out not to appreciate.

So I can't say how much difference would it make if the Ad Board stopped being a faculty body. But the consequences of the Resident Deans no longer being faculty would ripple into the texture of life in the Houses in ways that are not currently part of the discussion.


  1. Just saw this today. Great explanation Harry. I especially like, "it is easier to explain how the same rules apply to everyone and the decisions are cut and dried than to stand behind doing some superficially inconsistent but deeply "right thing" for reasons no one can fully understand, except those who were in the room to hear the discussion." That was what was best about Ad Board, and unfortunately less likely to happen after you were no longer on the board and the anal police/"rules are rules"/corporate mentality began to poison reasoned debate and big picture discussions. Sigh.

    1. Nice to hear from you, Shellgirl! You said it better than my contorted explanation.