E. Research Leaves of Absence for Tenure-Track Faculty Members

Tenure-track faculty members should refer to the “General Leave Policies” section, in addition to the provisions summarized below.

(1)  Eligibility for Paid and Unpaid Research Leave

Eligibility for paid and unpaid research leave varies according to academic division. Each division is discussed below.

The purpose of a paid or unpaid research leave is to make it possible for tenure-track faculty to take time off from their regular University responsibilities, including teaching and administrative service, in order to focus on their scholarly work. Tenure-track faculty on paid or unpaid research leave are expected to continue to conduct their research, advise and mentor their students and trainees, and follow FAS and University policies, including (in the case of paid leave) the 20 percent rule, which states that no more than 20 percent of one’s total professional effort may be directed to professional activities outside Harvard (see Chapter 2 for more information on this rule). Please note: Paid and unpaid research leaves and teaching relief earmarked for the assistant professor and associate professor terms respectively, as described immediately below, should be taken during those designated terms.

  • Assistant and associate professors in Arts and Humanities and most Social Science departments are eligible for two terms of leave during each of their tenure-track appointments. These leaves are taken as one term of paid leave and one term of unpaid leave during their assistant professorship and the same during their associate professorship.
     
  • Assistant and associate professors in the Economics Department are eligible for two terms of leave during each of their tenure-track appointments. Of the four, one is a semester of paid research leave, and three terms are unpaid research leave.
     
  • For tenure-track faculty in Arts and Humanities and Social Science departments, unpaid research leaves may be taken in combination with a term of paid research leave (in effect, extending the period of leave to a full academic year, rather than a single term) for those who are eligible for paid leave. Alternatively, faculty members may take a semester of unpaid leave unconnected to a paid research leave in order to take advantage of an outside funding opportunity.
  • As of July 1, 2013, the following policies apply to tenure-track faculty in the Sciences (which include the life sciences and physical sciences). For the purposes of these policies, the Division of Science is divided into two categories: Category 1[1] and Category 2.[2]

    As of July 1, 2013, assistant and associate professors in the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences follow the teaching relief and leave policies described below for Category 1 faculty in the Science Division.
     
    • Assistant professors in Category 1 of the Division of Science are eligible for one semester of teaching relief, to be taken during the first year of their appointment (in SEAS, teaching relief is offered during either the first or second year). As noted in Chapter 3A6, teaching relief is defined as exemption from formal classroom duties. This teaching relief should be taken in residence, to enable assistant professors to establish their laboratories and research programs on campus. In addition to one term of teaching relief, assistant professors in Category 1 are eligible for one semester of unpaid research leave. This term of unpaid research leave, if taken, should occur sometime during the assistant professor appointment, and after the first year. Assistant professors in Category 2 science departments may, in exceptional cases, apply for a semester of unpaid research leave, to be taken sometime during their assistant professor appointment, and after the first year.
       
    • Associate professors in Category 1 departments are eligible for two semesters of leave, to be taken during the associate professor appointment:  a) one term of unpaid research leave and b) one term of paid research leave. Associate professors in Category 2 departments will be eligible for one term of unpaid research leave, to be taken during the associate professor appointment.

(2)  Timing and Frequency of Leaves

Tenure-track faculty members ordinarily may take a paid or unpaid research leave as early as the second year of appointment, following the approval of the department chair(s) and depending on the needs of the department(s) and of the individual. 

In contrast to the policies governing the leaves for tenured faculty, there need not be six terms in residence teaching between leaves for tenure-track faculty. Consideration should be given, however, to the curricular and service needs of the department.

Note: The provisions limiting leaves to one academic year, noted in the “General Leave Policies” section, apply to tenure-track faculty.

Please see 3C5, “Sabbatical for Those Promoted from the Tenure-Track Ranks” for more information.

(3)   Additional Leave and Teaching Relief

Under exceptional circumstances, an additional term of unpaid leave may be available to tenure-track faculty in the Divisions of Social Science and Arts and Humanities, following approval by the relevant department(s) and by the divisional dean. Such an additional term is only permitted if external (i.e., non-Harvard) funding has been received and there is no opportunity to defer such funding until it might be combined with a term of paid leave.

For faculty in these Divisions, no more than five terms of leave will be approved during the years of a faculty member’s tenure-track appointments, with the exception of medical or personal leaves. For faculty members initially appointed at the associate professor level, a third term of unpaid leave may be available if external (i.e., non-Harvard) funding has been received and there is no opportunity to defer such funding until it might be combined with a term of paid leave.

Note: As an addendum to the policy above: 

  • In Spring 2021, the FAS instituted the following measure as part of its ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic. To further support tenure-track colleagues who were on the FAS tenure track and had children at home aged 12 or under during the 2020-2021 academic year and who were teaching three or more classes a year, the FAS stated that it would backstop the faculty member’s application for an additional term of research leave. This opportunity was also available, upon request, to tenure-track faculty teaching three or more classes a year who had other dependent-care concerns, such as caring for elders.

In January 2022, the FAS expanded eligibility for this backstopped leave to include any tenure-track faculty on the faculty at that time who are teaching three or more classes a year (regardless of whether or not they have children at home aged 12 or under, or other dependent-care concerns, such as caring for elders).

Thus, in addition to the terms of paid research leave to which tenure-track faculty are already entitled, if colleagues make a good-faith effort to apply for an external fellowship to receive salary support—as is standard practice when faculty take a term of unpaid leave to conduct research—the FAS will backstop the application if the faculty member does not secure a fellowship. (This measure is intended to apply to a single fellowship application, not multiple applications.)

  • In addition to this term of backstopped paid research leave, the FAS stated in Spring 2021 that it will grant relief from teaching one course for any interested tenure-track colleagues (regardless of dependent-care circumstances) who were on the FAS tenure-track during the 2020-21 academic year and who teach in departments/areas that have a typical teaching load of two courses or more per year. These eligible tenure-track faculty can take this course relief any time before they come up for tenure. This one-time course relief should be arranged in coordination with the department chair/area chair and can be taken during any of the years that the faculty member is on the tenure track. (The one-course reduction cannot be “banked” for use post tenure.)

As noted in Chapter 3.A.6 (“Teaching Relief”), teaching relief is not a leave of absence. Teaching relief is an exemption from formal classroom duties, either for full teaching duties during one term or half duty for two terms, at the option of the faculty member. Faculty are expected to continue advising and mentoring and performing service when taking teaching relief.

(4)   Effect on Tenure-Review “Clock”

Paid and unpaid research leaves do not affect the tenure-review clock for tenure-track faculty.

Note: With the significant disruptions to professional life resulting from the COVID-19 crisis, the FAS instituted in Spring 2020 a policy of extensions, allowing then-current tenure-track faculty the option of extending their appointment and postponing their promotion review for one semester or a year, depending on their eligibility. Similarly, FAS faculty whose appointments began in the fall term of 2020 were offered the option to extend their initial appointment by one year. In Spring 2021, recognizing the ongoing impact of COVID-19, the FAS encouraged any interested tenure-track faculty to contact their divisional dean/SEAS Dean if they wished to request an additional year of appointment and tenure-clock extension, for reasons of significant professional and/or personal disruption due to the pandemic. In January 2022, given the continuing impact of the pandemic, the FAS provided the option of a third appointment extension, for any interested tenure-track faculty who have not yet had their review for promotion to tenure and who feel that an extension would help them to address Covid-related impacts on their professional lives.

(5)   Compensation during Leaves

A faculty member on paid research leave at full salary may not ordinarily receive compensation in the form of salary from another academic institution or external (grant or non-grant) funding source. Those on paid research leave at half salary or on unpaid leave may receive external compensation, but if the funding is paid through Harvard, the total compensation received from all funding sources during the academic year may not exceed the faculty member’s full-time nine-month base salary at Harvard and three months’ supplemental salary. In such cases, compensation that exceeds the base salary will ordinarily be converted, in accordance with the policies of the funding source, into research support. Please be advised that all salary payments made through the University carry a charge for fringe benefits. Therefore, it is important for faculty to work with their financial administrators when applying for outside funding.

Faculty members on paid research leave may receive supplemental compensation from external sources, so long as the total amount received from all sources does not exceed the equivalent of three months’ salary. For additional information on faculty supplementary salary and payments, see https://research.fas.harvard.edu/policies/outside-activities-holders-academic-appointments#addendum and https://research.fas.harvard.edu/policies/fas-supplemental-salary-payment-policy.

Some external funding sources provide compensation directly to the faculty member, rather than paying it through Harvard. In such cases, those on paid research leave at half salary or on unpaid leave may receive total compensation during the academic year in excess of their nine-month base salary and three months’ supplemental salary. It is very important, however, that faculty members remain mindful of the policies reflecting conflicts of interest and conflicts of commitment, which apply at all times. Please see the following references (see also faculty research policies at https://research.fas.harvard.edu/policies/faculty-research): the University Statement on Outside Activities of Holders of Academic Appointments (available at https://provost.harvard.edu/statement-outside-activities-holders-academic-appointments), University Policy on Financial Conflicts of Interest (see http://files.vpr.harvard.edu/files/vpr-documents/files/harvard_university_fcoi_policy_4_0.pdf), FAS/SEAS Policy on Financial Conflicts of Interest Disclosures (available at https://research.fas.harvard.edu/policies/financial-conflicts-interest-disclosures), FAS/SEAS Policies Relating to Research & Other Professional Activities (available at https://research.fas.harvard.edu/policies-relating-research-and-other-professional-activities-within-and-outside-university), and FAS/SEAS Policies on Effort Reporting for Academic Year Effort and Supplemental Salary (available at https://research.fas.harvard.edu/effort-reporting) for more information. It is expected that each faculty member will, as noted in the University Statement on Outside Activities of Holders of Academic Appointments (available at https://provost.harvard.edu/statement-outside-activities-holders-academic-appointments), “conduct outside professional pursuits in ways that respect their responsibilities to their home institution” and that “one’s primary professional duties are to Harvard, and that outside professional activities will not conflict with obligations to one’s students, to colleagues, and to the University as a whole.” In practice this means that, for those on paid research leave at half salary, formal agreements with other organizations should reflect a half-time status at those organizations.[3]

Faculty members on paid research leave may still direct 20 percent of their effort to outside activities related to their areas of expertise.

Any questions or concerns about potential conflicts of interest should be brought in advance to Lauren Ferrell (research@fas.harvard.edu), the FAS/SEAS Designated Institutional Official for Conflicts of Interest, in FAS Research Administration Services. Any questions or concerns about potential conflicts of commitment should be brought in advance to the attention of the Office for Faculty Affairs.

During a paid research leave, the University continues to make retirement fund contributions on behalf of the faculty member. Similarly, health plan benefits, life insurance, and disability insurance continue to be effective, and the faculty member’s payments are deducted directly from the faculty member's paycheck.

During an unpaid leave, no retirement fund contributions are made by the University; however, health plan benefits, life insurance, and disability insurance continue to be effective so long as the individual makes the same contributions that the individual would have made if not on leave. In such cases, the University continues to cover its share of the relevant costs. Please note: Paycheck deductions for Flexible Spending Accounts and Health Savings Accounts stop during unpaid leaves. For more information about benefits during paid and unpaid leaves, faculty members should contact the Harvard Benefits Office directly.

[1] Category 1 consists of those departments in which faculty ordinarily teach at least one course (other than a graduate research course) in each semester. Currently, this category contains the Departments of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Human Evolutionary Biology, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Physics, Mathematics, and Statistics. Faculty with joint appointments, with one appointment in a Category 1 department and their other appointment in a Category 2 department, will be considered as belonging to a Category 1 department if they follow the teaching requirements of a Category 1 department in each year of their appointment.

[2] Category 2 consists of those departments with fewer teaching responsibilities than those described for Category 1. Currently, this category contains the Departments of Astronomy, Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Molecular and Cellular Biology, and Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology.

[3] Your income may need to be disclosed. Please see Chapter 2, “Compensation Related to Non-Harvard Activities,” for information on conflicts of interest and financial disclosure.