For Faculty & Staff

Communications from the A&H Dean

11/23/21: A Thanksgiving Note from Dean Kelsey

Date: November 23, 2021
Subject: A Thanksgiving Note from Dean Kelsey

Dear A&H Colleagues,

As we head toward Thanksgiving weekend, I write to share my gratitude, thoughts, and good wishes. In anticipation of the holiday, I reread passages of Robin Wall Kimmerer’s wonderful book, Braiding Sweetgrass, in which she calls for going beyond cultures of gratitude to embrace cultures of reciprocity. Although I believe fervently in the importance of giving thanks – and you have earned mine in full – Kimmerer is surely right that gratitude is not enough. Her words have me thinking about the reckoning and care our many overlapping worlds need.

Kimmerer was writing principally of reciprocal relations with non-human beings, but as I read from her book, my thoughts turned to how much I miss the full experience of those relations within our campus community. The return to in-person teaching has been a godsend, and tentative forays into auditoriums and dining rooms have boosted my spirits, but real connectedness remains rare. I miss having more accidental encounters and spontaneous exchanges. I miss knowing more about how you are doing and what’s on your mind.

Ever since the onset of the pandemic, life has been tough, and this fall – despite its welcome increments– has been no exception. We are understaffed, new demands as well as old press upon us, and everyone has been working very hard. Many members of our community, including those with children at home, those caring for parents, and those with particular health concerns, have had extra burdens. To them, I extend special thanks and special hopes that this long weekend offers a modicum of respite.

Meanwhile, there is no denying that for us the headwinds remain fierce. As many of you have heard, only 8% of our first-year undergraduates (Class of 2025) indicated when they arrived an intention to concentrate in the arts & humanities. I am collecting data from our peer institutions and have initiated conversations in University Hall to address this untenable situation. In the meantime, thank goodness so many of our budding undergraduate scientists and engineers are showing such a keen interest in what we do. Hearing your accounts from the classroom has been one of the brightest aspects of my fall.

Last but not least, I offer a heads up that I plan to initiate a series of conversations starting in January about how we might improve the organization of our division. Somebody told me of a rumor that I am going to reveal a secret plan. Sounds exciting! But I don’t have one. That’s the reason for the conversations. For now, I will just emphasize what I have already said: we are understaffed. In fact, a concern for the well-being of our wonderful staff is one of the main reasons I want to get these conversations started (while taking other steps more immediately). The primary reason, as you might imagine, is to make sure that we are poised to flourish as scholars and educators in the years to come. There is so much exciting work for us to do together!

Genug, as my grandmother would say. Along with thanks for your extraordinary dedication, you have my sincere hope that your holiday weekend is restful and rife with delights.

Robin

10/22/21: Arts & Humanities Climate Survey Results

Date: October 22, 2021
Subject: Arts & Humanities Climate Survey Results

Dear Arts & Humanities Colleagues,

Harvard University strives to create an environment that supports diversity, promotes an inclusive culture, and establishes a sense of belonging for each member of our community. An important element of promoting a supportive, inclusive culture is understanding the lived experiences of our community members.

In the spring of 2021, we asked our 21 Arts & Humanities departments and programs to work with the Divisional office and the Harvard College Office of Institutional Research (HCIR) to develop a climate survey for the members of their communities. The survey was designed to help us understand the challenges that we face in our academic communities and working environments and how best to address them.

The A&H departmental climate surveys were administered in Qualtrics by HCIR, sent to faculty, staff, graduate students, and undergraduate concentrators, and 960 respondents participated. With 2,137 community members invited, we had a total participation rate of 44.9% (specific population participation rates can be found on page four of the quantitative report). The quantitative summary report aggregates the results. The three constituency reports – for facultystaff, and graduate students – highlight themes surfaced by qualitative comments. My thanks to the HCIR team for developing, administering, and analyzing the department-specific climate surveys. And thank you to everyone who participated in the process.

I urge you to read and digest these results. There is some good news. Overall satisfaction with job/work/academic experience is high across students, staff, and faculty (at a rate of 86%). Responses to the interpersonal justice questions were exceptionally heartening, with over 90% of respondents indicating that they feel that they are treated with dignity and respect by members of their department. In general, members of our A&H community report feeling valued (80%) and accepted (85%). More than 4 out of 5 also report that differing points-of-view and opinion are respectfully heard and considered (83%). Ideally, of course, we would be even closer to unanimity on these matters, but at least we are starting from a strong base.

There are notable variants within these majority results that call for careful interpretation and responsive action, particularly where we see correlations between results and demographics. Graduate students, female faculty, and faculty identifying as Asian report a more negative climate across most issues. In some cases, the difference is stark.

  • Graduate students lag behind faculty, staff, and undergraduates in having a sense of belonging within their departments (51% report feeling that their departments have a strong sense of community, and this number falls to just 33% among female graduate students). The percentage affirming that their department has demonstrated a commitment to diversity is also smaller, and nearly a third report feeling that they have been treated differently based on their identity. Graduate students have the lowest level of agreement in areas of accountability for wrongdoing, with only 38% indicating that there are clear reporting channels and just 24% feeling that there is a clear process for resolving conflicts. Perhaps more concerning is the finding that more than half of our graduate students indicated they would fear retaliation for coming forward with a complaint. These results are often worse among our female and non-binary graduate students.
  • Female faculty report higher rates of perceiving different treatment based on their identity (30% compared to 15% among male faculty). They also rate their departments much lower on the accountability for wrongdoing metrics than do their male colleagues, with a gap of between 15 and 20 percentage points. When it comes to incivility, 59% of female faculty report experiencing incivility compared with 40% of male faculty.
  • Faculty identifying as Asian report overall satisfaction at a rate far below those of faculty identifying as URM, White, or who did not disclose race. Just 50% of Asian faculty feel their department has a strong sense of community. They also report feeling less well respected by their faculty colleagues and by departmental leadership and less comfortable than their faculty colleagues with raising ideas and dissenting views.

The linked issues of sense of community, professional conduct, and accountability are of concern across all sectors of our community. Only 62% of respondents report feeling a strong sense of community in their department. While 24% feel that they have been treated differently based on their identity, this number jumps to 67% among our non-binary staff. 61% of participants would feel comfortable coming forward with complaints or grievances without fear of retaliation. Only 49% think we have clear channels for reporting behaviors while just 37% think we have a clear process for resolving behaviors. And the majority (56%) of survey participants report experiencing a form of incivility, from condescension to exclusion, unprofessional terms, and harassment. Among those reporting incivility, approximately 2/3 of them report multiple occurrences. Our community will never be perfect, but we can – and must – do better.

As part of our Divisional commitment to transparently address issues of inclusion and belonging in our departments, we will be hosting three conversations for specific constituencies within the Arts & Humanities:

  • For Faculty, on Thursday, October 28, at 4pm
  • For Staff, on Wednesday, November 3, at 4pm
  • For Graduate Students, on Thursday, November 4, at 4pm

These meetings will provide an opportunity to discuss the Divisional findings of the climate survey with a particular focus on each population’s survey themes and experiences. You will receive a separate invitation for your conversation soon.

These constituency conversations will mark the start of a series of efforts to bring more inclusivity, civility, accountability, and community into our departments and programs. We will share news and updates in the conversations on existing and upcoming resources and opportunities for workshops and trainings.

Your departmental chairs have had the opportunity to speak with representatives from HCIR and the Center for Workplace Development to help formulate strategies for developing a plan of action within each unit. We have made funds available for departments to host community-building events, and we will host a lecture series on issues of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging in spring 2022.

In addition, departmental Faculty Liaisons for Inclusive Excellence (FLIEs) will be making the findings of the departmental climate surveys a part of their agenda for the year. This group will work with the FAS Associate Dean for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging, Sheree Ohen, and her team to link our efforts to expertise and experience in this domain.

We will continue to hold ourselves to the highest standards of intellectual rigor. Doing so involves vigorous discussion and debate, often between people who disagree. I want to emphasize my support for healthy and vibrant intellectual discourse, but also want to stress Harvard’s expectations for professional conduct. We have a shared responsibility to establish an intellectual climate in which, as Dean Khurana likes to say, we can disagree without being disagreeable, and be hard on the problem while being easy on each other. This will allow ideas and careers to flourish at Harvard. The appended reports are a call to action for us all, and I ask for your support as we move forward with lasting and sustained institutional change.

If you have any questions or would like to share feedback about the report, please email us at arts-hum@fas.harvard.edu.

With best wishes,

Robin

9/1/21: First Day

Date: September 1, 2021
Subject: First Day

Dear A&H Colleagues,

On our first day back in the classroom since March 2020, I write with thanks and hope for the year ahead of us. This is not quite the return to campus we had envisioned early in the summer, before the delta variant made its unwelcome way around the globe, but I am no less grateful that we are together again. While I trust that the policies and procedures set in place by the University – including our vaccine mandate and universal masking policy – will keep us safe, many are understandably feeling anxious about our return to in-person instruction and office life. It is my hope that each passing day brings us greater familiarity and comfort with our new ‘normal’ on campus. Each walk through the Yard leads to another encounter with a long-missed friend and colleague. And each class meeting confirms the importance of our mission as a residential college.

There are only so many times one can say that we are living through an unprecedented moment before the meaning of the words starts to dim. But I will say this: As I prepare for my own first class this afternoon – grappling with concerns about teaching while masked, the challenges of forming connections with students who may be anxious about being in shared spaces again, and the spectral ‘what ifs’ that hover over the semester– I am still filled with the same excitement and joy in teaching that I have felt at the start of every semester at Harvard. Ours is an extraordinary community. I look forward to working with you to meet the challenges of the semester before us.

As always, thank you for the work that you do in making Harvard a healthy and scintillating place to work.

With best wishes,

Robin

8/27/21: Welcome Back and Follow-Up to Town Hall

Date: August 27, 2021
Subject: Welcome Back and Follow-Up to Town Hall

Dear A&H Faculty,

Welcome back! If you have been lucky enough to glimpse the Yard in the last couple of days, you will know that it is buzzing as it has not buzzed in a long time. While we continue to put our trust in the Harvard experts who have steered us so wisely on public health matters to date, I would like to take a moment to celebrate the sight of students throwing frisbees, moving furniture into their rooms, and conversing in excited tones. After many months of deprivation, everyday pleasures can seem a miracle!

That said, the challenges of the pandemic remain with us, and I want to acknowledge the unshed weariness and lingering anxieties that may be plaguing many who are anticipating a return to campus or to the classroom. I would urge everyone to go easy on one another as we adjust to our new circumstances and the nimbleness they require.

Speaking of which, I hope that Tuesday’s Return to Campus Faculty Town Hall for the Arts & Humanities and Social Sciences was helpful. It was certainly nice to see so many familiar names and faces on the Zoom. A recording of the meeting is available here: https://projects.iq.harvard.edu/dossprivate/home. The video will be available until 5 PM, Friday, September 3rd.

Below are the links that were shared during the Town Hall as well as a few additional sites that may be helpful. Attached is a checklist to consult prior to returning to campus. To help us manage the flow of questions coming to our office, please consult all of the information provided in the Town Hall and in the links below as a first step. These resources will be updated frequently with the most recent information. If you cannot find an answer to your query, please write with suggestions for questions to add to the FAQs.

Also, please understand that University Hall cannot address in advance every possible contingency with respect to the pandemic. Some “what if” questions involve matters too complex and nuanced to reduce to a formula. For example, we cannot specify in advance precisely the combinations of factors that would lead the University or the FAS to return to remote instruction. What should be absolutely clear by now is that the FAS is committed to maintaining the health and safety of our community, and to upholding our aspirations as a residential community of scholarship and learning to the extent that we responsibly can. Many other “what if” questions involve local situations that will call on our faculty and staff to draw on their experience, resourcefulness, and discretion. As you negotiate such situations, please let us know what solutions you discover, so that we may share inspired practices.

I look forward to seeing you on campus very soon. In the meantime, I am, as always, immensely grateful for your dedication and patience. You make Harvard an extraordinary place to work.

All my best,

Robin

Attachment: Return to Campus Checklist for Faculty - 25 August 2021

8/18/21: A&H Faculty Updates & Town Hall Invitation

Date: August 18, 2021
Subject: A&H Faculty Updates & Town Hall Invitation

Dear A&H Faculty Colleagues,

As we near the end of what I hope has been a restful summer for you all, I write with a few important reminders and an invitation to a Town Hall.

Many of you have been asking important, time-sensitive questions related to returning to in-person instruction. Information on this topic will be coming from the FAS early next week, followed by an invitation to attend a joint Arts & Humanities/Social Science Faculty Town Hall next Tuesday, August 24, from 2-3pm. Please hold this time on your calendars. Representatives from OUE, GSAS, EHS, OPRP, Faculty Affairs, and HUHS will attend the meeting to respond to your questions. Please send any questions you would like answered to arts-hum@fas.harvard.edu by no later than 9am next Monday, August 23. Please note that this Town Hall is targeted to all Course Heads; a separate session is being arranged for course TAs/TFs.

I know there have been several communications about our planned return to campus and the numerous protocols and safeguards we as a University are putting in place to prioritize health and safety while still protecting our academic enterprise. While I don’t wish to repeat information that can be found, for instance, in this morning's message from President Bacow, or on the FAS website for Return to Campus Planning, there are a few items I wish to emphasize before the start of classes.

Flexwork

We have the opportunity to make some changes to the way we have done business in the past. This fall will be a period of experimentation, as we try out new arrangements and working styles for our staff. As staff return to campus, you will notice that schedules have changed. Some staff may come in earlier than usual or leave before 5. Some may work from home some days and on campus others. The University is encouraging us to try out these flexible schedules in the fall to see if they meet our business needs while also meeting our goals of sustainability, diversity, inclusion and belonging, and employee wellbeing.

The staff in our departments, programs, and centers have taken a thoughtful approach to the concept of flex schedules and will have talked to many of you about the changes in their hours. I would like to ask you to be open to these changes, be mindful of them, and meet them with flexibility and tolerance.

At the divisional level, we also plan to experiment with flexible work schedules. My own office has instituted a work from home day on Friday for all staff, and we will close our University Hall office for visitors that day. The Arts and Humanities Administrative Services (AHAS) group, operating out of Boylston and Barker and supporting faculty with their copying and scanning needs, as well as offering financial support services, will have fulltime staff coverage for the first two weeks of the semester, and then move to flexible work schedules with work-at-home days for staff as well. We would ask you again to be supportive of these changes and help us make them successful by providing your feedback and checking in with your Department or Center Administrator with any concerns or questions.

Masking

As President Bacow reiterated in his message this morning, all individuals – regardless of vaccination status – must wear face coverings in all indoor spaces when on campus. There are very few exceptions to this rule related to active eating in designated spaces, performing/lecturing when appropriate distance can be maintained, and sole occupancy of a private office. For further guidance, consult the Face Coverings: General Use and Guidance for On-Campus Activity documents produced by the Office of Environmental Health & Safety.

Personal Responsibility

There are many changes to the way we conduct our usual business on Harvard’s campus, from mask wearing to weekly COVID testing. We each bear the responsibility of meeting the standards set by the University for keeping Harvard a safe and healthy environment. Do not expect or ask your staff members to bear the burden of reminding people of or policing the standards of safety for your unit.

Updates and the latest policies regarding on-campus activities can be found on the website of the Office of Environmental Health & Safety at https://www.ehs.harvard.edu/covid-19-resources. While major policy and practice changes will be communicated through the President's, Provost's, or FAS Dean’s offices, every community member should be aware of the expectations for the fall.

This promises to be an unusual but, I hope, joyful return to campus this fall. Thank you all for doing your part to make our shared academic mission a success. I hope to see you at next week's Town Hall, and on campus again soon.

With best wishes,

Robin