Let’s Help Harvard Faculty Share in Its Governance

I wrote an article for Minding the Campus a while back titled “Harvard’s Plagiarism Review Process is a Joke.” The article mentioned, in passing, that Harvard doesn’t have a faculty senate and doesn’t have a chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). Without a senate, the faculty have no formal representation to approve or disapprove Harvard’s draft interim policy on plagiarism.

Although Harvard has a Kennedy School of Government, Harvard’s faculty have no seat in Harvard’s own governance. Harvard’s Kennedy School is deeply concerned with global governance but seems to utterly neglect consideration of the AAUP and its position supporting faculty governance. As the saying goes, “the cobbler’s children have no shoes.”


Web documents matching “global governance” and “aaup” at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

So now it looks as though I’m going to have to start acting as a Harvard’s and AAUP’s go-between. This article is organized as follows. First, the introduction. Next, the related work. Then the experimental methods and results, followed by discussion and recommendations.


Dear Harvard Faculty, allow me to introduce the AAUP. Dear AAUP, please meet the faculty of Harvard University. You are invited to take a moment and get to know each other better.

Related work  

The AAUP has published a “Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities” and “Standards for Investigations in the Area of College and University Governance.” These documents can help you get past the awkward phase of starting conversations with each other. To further kickstart your conversations with AAUP, here’s a message from its Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance:

An agency should exist for the presentation of the views of the whole faculty. Faculty representatives should be selected by the faculty according to procedures determined by the faculty … [which may take the form of] a faculty-elected senate or council for larger divisions or the institution as a whole.

Such representation is warranted, for example, when Harvard’s research officer declares that the draft interim plagiarism policy proposed by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) is now in force throughout the entire university—even for Harvard’s law school, medical school, divinity school, extension school, and Kennedy School of Government. Shouldn’t these faculties have a say in the matter of a university-wide policy on faculty misconduct?

The AAUP provides some guidance in case the Harvard faculty wonders, “why do more than 500 other colleges have AAUP chapters, but we don’t.” I humbly offer this insider info to help facilitate your get-to-know-you-better mixer with AAUP:

As one of the Association’s internal policy documents on governance case work observes, ‘the first line of defense against the loss of shared governance is the institution’s own faculty.’ Interested faculty members at Harvard might wish to contact our Department of Organizing and Services (organizing@aaup.org), the staff of which may be able to provide advice with regard to organizing support for a university-wide faculty governance body.

In case you want to recruit AAUP to shine a light on your lack of faculty governance, here’s another tip from its Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance:

The first [step] is the submission of a formal complaint accompanied by supporting documentation. If the staff of our department determines that the facts provided by the faculty complainant(s) indicate that the complaint warrants the AAUP’s formal intervention.

Admittedly, this “complaint” step is tricky. If you complain about Harvard imposing a plagiarism policy that wasn’t ratified by the—non-existent—faculty senate, you will face retaliation. It would sure be nice if you could simply complain to your campus AAUP chapter and then let the chapter anonymize it for you. But first, you would need to have a campus AAUP chapter!

There’s another wrinkle as well (emphasis added):

[T]he AAUP’s executive director may take the rare step of authorizing an investigation … [when a university’s administration engages in such] actions as ‘the abolition of an existing faculty senate, the thorough restructuring of an institution, or the imposition of a faculty handbook, which occur without meaningful faculty involvement,’ as examples of situations upon which the authorization of an investigation might be based.

You see the problem, of course. The Harvard Corporation already outfoxed you because you don’t even have an “existing faculty senate” for the Corporation to dissolve! By contrast, Stanford University—with whom Harvard is tied for the #3 spot among the best universities—does have a faculty senate. Looks like you’ll have an uphill battle just convincing AAUP to investigate.

Experimental methods  

3.1 Asking AAUP how to establish a chapter at Harvard  

In the spirit of being a diligent go-between, I persuaded a colleague to press AAUP for more details about how to establish an AAUP chapter at Harvard.

3.2 Asking Harvard officials for information  

We contacted administrators at six of Harvard’s various schools—FAS, Law School, Medical School, Divinity School, Kennedy School of Government, and Continuing Education—asking for information about faculty governance.

Please describe the steps Harvard is taking to:

  • promote faculty governance;
  • establish an AAUP chapter;
  • involve AAUP in an examination of Harvard’s lack of a faculty senate.

Please describe the process whereby Harvard faculty will ratify the interim draft of the FAS guidelines for handling disclosures of plagiarism.


4.1 Results of asking AAUP for information  

We contacted the AAUP Department of Organizing and Services, as advised by the AAUP Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Governance. The AAUP only requires half a dozen card-carrying AAUP members at Harvard to form a chapter there. So we asked how to invite half a dozen AAUP members among the Harvard faculty to launch an AAUP chapter at Harvard. But so far, no reply.

4.2. Results of asking Harvard officials for information  

Exactly zero of the seventy-six Harvard administrators responded to our request for information, which is a zero point zero percent response rate. The low rate is surprising since the websites for some of these administrators guarantee a response within three days and because the email client for twenty-two of the Harvard administrators sent us automatic messages saying that our request had been read.

Discussion and recommendations  

A recent piece by a Harvard Crimson editor points out that:

While Harvard has a number of resources describing the institution’s stance on plagiarism, like the Harvard University Plagiarism Policy, it does not have a definition of plagiarism applicable to every Harvard school.

And so, I’m politely suggesting that half a dozen faculty at Harvard become members of the AAUP so they can form a chapter to submit an anonymized “complaint” to AAUP. Then AAUP can investigate how Harvard has no faculty senate to weigh in on the interim draft of the FAS guidelines on that plagiarism thing everybody’s been talking about lately. As my good friend Jerry Maguire said, “help me help you.”

If any Harvard faculty with AAUP memberships are out there, you seem to be in hiding. Can’t blame you for that, to be honest—the Harvard Corporation has a fleet of lawyers whose detectives will assuredly find you out.

If you guys need a go-between to serve as matchmaker with AAUP, I’m willing to collect your emails and keep them anonymous while we sort out the process for getting you an AAUP chapter, a faculty senate, and a proper plagiarism policy. All we need is six of you with AAUP memberships. It will cost $331 apiece to join. If that’s a hardship, let’s launch a crowd-funding website to raise the couple grand it would take to purchase the memberships. Alternatively, let’s raise the money busking on the square.

We could even do a write-up afterwards. Future scholars will appreciate reading about how Harvard’s faculty—after 388 years—finally managed to establish a faculty senate the way faculty at hundreds of other campuses across the country have done.

Photo by jStock — Adobe Stock — Asset ID#: 193176338


  • Ozlam Fisek

    Ozlam Fisek is an independent analyst in Florida, with an interest in documenting trends in academic publishing and an avid fan of PubPeer.

6 thoughts on “Let’s Help Harvard Faculty Share in Its Governance

  1. Good luck with your venture.
    When I was thinking of applying to Harvard and MIT it was explained to me that at MIT all the rules for what you have to do and what exams you have to pass etc. are laid out in excruciating detail — with flow charts no less.
    By contrast everything at Harvard is vague and obscure. All is very secretive. The real exam you must pass is figuring out what the rules actually are.
    To this end I located someone who really knew the ropes and asked him politely for an hour of his time. He was more than happy to explain me exactly what to do — which turned out to be quite the opposite of what I had expected.
    This approach might work for you too.

  2. There is also the very real question of why bothering to worry about which definition of plagiarism Harvard uses when it increasingly appears that Harvard has an epidemic of high-level people who have violated any definition of it.

    According to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal, there is now a THIRD Harvard administrator facing plagiarism charges, with hints that many more are in the pipeline. See: https://www.city-journal.org/article/harvards-plagiarism-problem-multiplies

    So to date we have Claudine Gay the President, Sherri Ann Charleston the Chief Diversity Officer, and now Shirley Greene the Title IX Officer at the Extension School.

    Yes, all are Black women which has raised the inevitable cries of racism and sexism, but as one who has done “guerrilla journalism”, I don’t think that is what is happening here — it’s more like how a CPA would conduct an audit — you look at everyone just like an auditor would look at every line item.

    My guess is that someone (likely several someones) is ordering copies of dissertations and journal articles (easy enough to do today), actually reading them (which often isn’t that easy) and then running key sentences through Google (or duckduckgo.com) and seeing if anything comes back. There is a lot of work involved in this, particularly if you are trying to read something that is outside your field.

    And a lot more work figuring out what you actually do or don’t have when something comes back, along with the source of whatever it is you got, etc.

    You’d think that search firms would do this — heaven knows they are paid enough money — but my experience is that they don’t. I found things that our search firm never did…

    And one would be amazed at the number of university administrators who have graduated from law school and are presumed to be lawyers but actually aren’t and never have been…

  3. I dropped out of the AAUP years ago. My “dues” instead of going to them are put into the university’s general scholarship fund. I dropped out because the AAUP is a left-wing organization no different than Randi Weingarten’s American Federation of Teachers.

    Moreover, anyone who thinks a faculty senate will lead to actual faculty governance is at best naive. Having served on one, I found they are primarily an advisory body. They have no actual governing authority.

    1. But why should the faculty be anything other than (at best) an advisory body?

      Let’s start with the public universities, which are subdivisions of various state governments. If the faculty have the right to run a public university than the police have the right to run the police department — and even before George Floyd, that would never be tolerated. Not since the 1960s.

      The problem with working in the public sector is that you answer to the voters and the idiots they elect. If you are in a conservative state, expect to see your public universities governed in a conservative manner — but if you are in the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, don’t be surprised when the Governor tells your campus infirmary to buy an abortion pill for every female student you have on campus. (Seriously, Maura Healey did…)

      Even if you are at a private IHE, unless it is Hillsdale or Grove City Colleges, you are living on Federal taxpayer dollars, mostly student financial aid and Federal grant money. Shouldn’t taxpayers have the right to say what is (and isn’t) done with their tax dollars?

      And then, on an even more basic level, who “owns” the university financially?
      Forget the endowment and land — who’s on the hook financially if it goes bankrupt?
      Do the faculty have their personal assets tied up in the university — would they lose their savings, their retirement, and their homes?

      Of course not.

      So what logical right do the faculty have to run it?

      Any competent administrator is humble enough to listen to what others think — and the university president (and governor) ought to respectfully listen to what the faculty have to say. And in this classic newsreel clip from the 1960s, then Governor Reagan did — but that doesn’t mean he had to agree with them. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05xJk9CnoRI and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CgRn0DQwyK0

      1. I never said faculty senates should be anything other than advisory. My point is thinking a faculty senate is some magic bullet to faculty governance is naive. And getting the AAUP involved will be counter-productive.

  4. I ask again — would Claudine Gay’s work have had academic merit if she hadn’t plagiarized it? Even if she’d properly cited everything in her CV, should it even have qualified her to be a dean? And even after she got “fired”, she’s still on the payroll with an income well into the six figures…

    What was it that Albert Einstein (may have) said about continuing to do the same thing and somehow expecting a different outcome?

    Harvard is somewhat unique — amongst other things, it is probably the only private university to have rights explicitly granted to it by a state constitution.* There are nine faculties, and each appears to have its own Faculty Senate of sorts. See, for example, the governance of the Faculty of Medicine: https://facultyhandbook.hms.harvard.edu/2bylaws-gov/hrvd-fom-gov/

    It’s definitely Byzantine, but it appears that all nine faculties are represented, and using the example of the medical faculty, if they had held an adamant “No Way Claudine Gay” viewpoint, their Faculty Council could have voted that at its monthly meeting, or they could have raised it themselves at their biannual faculty meetings. These are people with international reputations, reporters would return their phone calls and if any fraction of them opposed Gay’s candidacy, it would have made the press.

    So it’s either a case of faculty being way too busy doing serious stuff to much care about university politics, or being too intimidated to defy the politically correct agenda — or most likely, some of both. But why would anyone suspect that the same people, in a new organization, would behave any differently?

    We’ve had a half century of subversion and the Harvard of today is largely living off its past laurels. Look at what Claudine Gay as Dean did to Law Professor Ronald Sullivan for joining the legal defense team of an accused criminal (Harvey Weinstein). I mean, like, heaven forbid that a law professor who specializes in “criminal law, criminal procedure, trial practice and techniques” help defend an unpopular (and likely guilty) man…

    And if the ACLU couldn’t save his position as Faculty Dean of Winthrop House, what makes one think that the AAUP would do any better? No, Harvard tipped its hand when it fired Larry Summers and re-arranging the deck chairs is not going to change anything.

    *Chapter 5, Section 1 of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, written in 1780 by Harvard alum John Adams, reads as follows:


    Section I. The University.

    Article I.
    Whereas our wise and pious ancestors, so early as the year one thousand six hundred and thirty-six, laid the foundation of Harvard College, in which university many persons of great eminence have, by the blessing of God, been initiated in those arts and sciences, which qualified them for public employments, both in church and state: and whereas the encouragement of arts and sciences, and all good literature, tends to the honor of God, the advantage of the Christian religion, and the great benefit of this and the other United States of America — it is declared, that the President and Fellows of Harvard College, in their corporate capacity, and their successors in that capacity, their officers and servants, shall have, hold, use, exercise and enjoy, all the powers, authorities, rights, liberties, privileges, immunities and franchises, which they now have or are entitled to have, hold, use, exercise and enjoy: and the same are hereby ratified and confirmed unto them, the said president and fellows of Harvard College, and to their successors, and to their officers and servants, respectively, forever.

    Article II.
    And whereas there have been at sundry times, by divers persons, gifts, grants, devises of houses, lands, tenements, goods, chattels, legacies and conveyances, heretofore made, either to Harvard College in Cambridge, in New England, or to the president and fellows of Harvard College, or to the said college, by some other description, under several charters successively: it is declared, that all the said gifts, grants, devises, legacies and conveyances, are hereby forever confirmed unto the president and fellows of Harvard College, and to their successors in the capacity aforesaid, according to the true intent and meaning of the donor or donors, grantor or grantors, devisor or devisors.

    Article III.
    [And whereas, by an act of the general court of the colony of Massachusetts Bay passed in the year one thousand six hundred and forty-two, the governor and deputy-governor, for the time being, and all the magistrates of that jurisdiction, were, with the president, and a number of the clergy in the said act described, constituted the overseers of Harvard College: and it being necessary, in this new constitution of government to ascertain who shall be deemed successors to the said governor, deputy-governor and magistrates; it is declared, that the governor, lieutenant governor, council and senate of this commonwealth, are and shall be deemed, their successors, who with the president of Harvard College, for the time being, together with the ministers of the congregational churches in the towns of Cambridge, Watertown, Charlestown, Boston, Roxbury, and Dorchester, mentioned in the said act, shall be, and hereby are, vested with all the powers and authority belonging, or in any way appertaining to the overseers of Harvard College; provided, that] nothing herein shall be construed to prevent the legislature of this commonwealth from making such alterations in the government of the said university, as shall be conducive to its advantage and the interest of the republic of letters, in as full a manner as might have been done by the legislature of the late Province of the Massachusetts Bay.

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