Yale forgoes battle for Harvard profs

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Some leading Harvard professors who recently have expressed publicly their willingness to leave the university due to growing dissatisfaction with Harvard President Lawrence Summers are weighing job offers from rival institutions — but Yale has yet to partake in the high-stakes courtships.

While top universities such as Columbia and Princeton have been quick to recruit disgruntled Harvard professors in the wake of Summers’ controversial remarks last month on the underrepresentation of women in the sciences, Yale has made no attempts to capitalize on growing discontent on the Cambridge, Mass., campus.

“I haven’t heard about any department at Yale deliberately trying to recruit Harvard faculty in light of this recent controversy,” Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said. “Harvard has a wonderful faculty, and there are many faculty members there we would be pleased to have at Yale, so we always have our eye on people at Harvard.”

Yale’s recruitment strategy is driven by departmental needs, not the perceived availability of leading scholars, Graduate School Dean Jon Butler said.

“Recruitment isn’t a publicity game; recruitment is a serious matter in which we try to coordinate intellectual and curricular needs with the potential availability of individuals, and we frequently recruit faculty who might not have thought of moving to Yale,” Butler said. “We don’t sit around and wait for something unpropitious to happen at another university to begin a recruitment process.”

Yale’s unwillingness to partake in bidding wars for star professors is nothing new. In 2002, immediately after the highly-publicized spat between Summers and several of Harvard’s leading African-American studies professors, Yale remained on the sidelines while Princeton successfully wooed Cornel West and Anthony Appiah from Harvard. Henry Louis Gates ’73, a former Yale professor who was denied tenure in 1983, decided to remain as chair of Harvard’s Afro-American Studies Program after publicly declaring his intention to leave.

But Princeton’s recruitment efforts may not be that different from Yale’s, Salovey said, adding that he thinks Princeton’s current recruiting interests at Harvard may be “a bit coincidental.”

Leading Harvard professors receive offers to go to other universities on a regular basis, Harvard government and sociology professor Theda Skocpol said. But she admitted that the present situation may have some bearing on those who have previously received offers.

“One common factor that goes on in everyone’s thinking is what life is like here,” Skocpol said. “What goes on here may have some influence on people’s thinking.”

Summers’ controversial leadership of the university has prompted professors like physics professor Daniel Fisher to consider leaving.

“Already people are unhappy here,” Fisher said. “The atmosphere is horrendous. Summers runs things like a dictator.”

Yale Psychology Department chair Kelly Brownell said the uproar at Harvard would have no bearing on which professors would be included in a departmental search.

“If we were interested in trying to recruit from Harvard, we would do it irrespective of what was going on,” Brownell said.

Yet while the University continues to hold back during times that may prove more conducive to luring faculty, professors said more aggressive recruiters stand to benefit.

Harvard Anthropology Department chair Arthur Kleinman said he thinks the Summers controversy has created a good opportunity for Yale and other top universities to lure prominent scholars.

“I’m not one of the professors who’s received offers, and I haven’t heard specifically that Yale has [made offers], but if I were the president of Yale or Columbia or Princeton right now, I’d do that,” Kleinman said.

Many department chairs at Princeton who have had their eyes on certain Harvard professors for some time are now stepping up their recruitment efforts, said Maria Klawe, Princeton’s dean of engineering and applied sciences.

“There are lots of people at Princeton who have said, ‘We’ve tried to recruit so and so in the past and now might be a good time to pursue it,'” Klawe said.

Princeton Provost Christopher Eisgruber said increasing the number of women in the sciences and engineering at Princeton has been a priority for several years. Rising discontent at Harvard may facilitate the recruitment of women from that institution, Klawe said.

“We try to, in particular, track promising young women and mid-career women, and we are constantly on the lookout for women who might be a good match,” she said.

Some professors at Harvard have indicated their willingness to leave, which they said results not just from Summers’ recent comments, but from a long-standing conflict regarding Summers’ leadership style.

While a mass exodus of professors from Harvard is unlikely, Harvard Afro-American Studies professor J. Lorand Matory said he thinks the university, which likely will lose “a few” professors very soon, will face problems recruiting new professors in the future.

“If Summers remains in office,” Matory said, “I can imagine a significant number of top people choosing different institutions.”

Yale Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department chair Stephen Stearns, whose department is currently considering 12 candidates for three positions, said one of the potential hires is a Harvard professor who has cited Summers’ disregard for evolutionary biology as a reason for leaving.

But the candidate’s affiliation with Harvard will not be a factor in determining whether he gets the job, Stearns said.

“I honestly cannot tell you whether we would extend an offer to him,” Stearns said. “We have some other outstanding people in the search. Excellence is going to trump Harvard any time you make a comparison.”

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