The Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) honors faculty engagement in activities that serve the public interest, insofar as they accord with the individual’s primary professional identity as a Harvard faculty member. Many forms of service in the public interest, whether in the United States or other countries, and whether undertaken with the government, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, or other non-profit entities, may be consistent with the FAS’s commitment to enhancing the well-being of societies. Service in the public interest can also deepen faculty members’ knowledge and experience in ways that enrich the Harvard community. FAS faculty who may be eligible for leaves for public service are: assistant professors, associate professors, senior lecturers, professors of the practice, professors in residence, and tenured professors. Leaves for public service are unpaid—meaning that the faculty member does not receive a Harvard salary during the period of leave—and they are governed by the following principles.
a. The FAS seeks to apply the same standard and process to all requests for public service leave, regardless of the country in which the service would take place. This is meant to maximize fairness and equity.
The FAS standard is rooted in Harvard policies that have long protected the integrity of the University’s teaching and research mission and that have required faculty members to honor their primary professional commitment to Harvard. These policies have proven durable over decades of faculty members performing public service. The core ideas in these policies are further articulated in 2b.
The process for handling requests for public service leave is described in Section 3 (“Practice”) below.
b. Faculty members are required to take an unpaid public service leave if, when undertaken while they are active members of the FAS faculty,their activities would entail either a conflict of commitment or a conflict of interest.
This principle supports a necessary separation between the work and interests of Harvard and other entities.
Harvard’s “Policies Related to Research and Other Professional Activities Within and Outside the University” describes conflict of commitment as follows: “With the acceptance of a full-time appointment in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, an individual makes a commitment to the University that is understood to be full-time in the most inclusive sense. Every member is expected to accord the University his or her primary professional loyalty and to arrange outside obligations, financial interests, and activities so as not to conflict with this overriding commitment to the University.”
In service to this idea, Harvard has a “20 percent rule.” As described in Harvard’s “Statement on Outside Activities of Holders of Academic Appointments”: “[N]o more than 20 percent of one’s total professional effort may be directed to outside work.” Twenty percent refers to the aggregate of all of a faculty member’s outside activities.
As this relates to public service, the FAS considers both ostensible time and effort and the potential for unforeseen events. For example, a faculty member holding elected office with duties anticipated to be less than 20 percent may nevertheless experience greater and hard-to-predict demands on his/her/their time in the event of a national or local emergency. The FAS Appointment and Promotion Handbook, Chapter 2, Section B6, speaks to this possibility: “In interpreting [the 20 percent] rule, faculty members should be mindful of the ultimate manifestation of any non-Harvard activities undertaken. Even if the work initially falls within the 20 percent rule or occurs during unpaid summer months, there may exist the possibility that conflict of interest or of commitment may eventually arise.”
Moreover, conflict of commitment is not only about hours counted. As the “Statement” notes, “…[T]ime is not the only consideration determining the appropriateness of consulting and related outside activities. The more general concern is that such activities should not conflict with one’s paramount obligations to students, colleagues, and the University….This can require attention not only to the overall time expended but also to the nature of specific activities and the individual’s role in them.” This means that, at its core, the test for conflict of commitment in public service is one of primary professional loyalty to Harvard.
With regard to conflict of interest, the quote in the preceding paragraph has additional implications.
First, the FAS has an obligation to protect intellectual independence in the classroom and the broader Harvard community. If a faculty member’s public service has undue potential to impair the faculty member's ability to teach and conduct research without constraint, the FAS’s core mission is compromised and the integrity of our intellectual enterprise is damaged.
Second, conflict of interest has an institutional aspect. The FAS and Harvard are large entities with many global relationships and concerns. A faculty member’s proposed public service may put the faculty member (or have undue potential to put the faculty member) in a position of making decisions that directly or indirectly affect Harvard.
For further guidance on financial conflicts of interest, the FAS follows, among other documents, the FAS/SEAS “Financial Conflicts of Interest Disclosures” policy.
Additional considerations may apply when a faculty member seeks to run for or serve in an elected office, as informed by Harvard’s status as a tax-exempt organization.
In practice, and reflecting the discussion above, an unpaid public service leave is required whenever an FAS faculty member takes up a non-Harvard position that meets any of the following conditions:
- Requires (or has undue potential to require) more than 20 percent of the faculty member’s total professional effort, or
- Compromises (or has undue potential to compromise) the faculty member’s primary professional loyalty to Harvard, or
- Impairs (or has undue potential to impair) a faculty member’s ability to teach or conduct research without constraint (in particular upon election or appointment to office), or
- Increases unduly the likelihood of a conflict of commitment or conflict of interest.
FAS faculty members wishing to take up a public service position should first submit a proposal to their divisional dean/John A. Paulson Dean of SEAS, who will consult with the department chair/SEAS area chair in determining whether a leave is appropriate. In all cases, the decision to grant or require a leave for public service is ultimately at the discretion of the Edgerley Family Dean of the FAS.
Consistent with the FAS’s policies concerning all leaves (see FAS Appointment and Promotion Handbook, Chapter 3), leaves for public service, which are unpaid, may not be granted for more than one year at a time. Ordinarily, faculty members should not be out of the classroom for more than a year at a time. It is possible on occasion to request a second year of unpaid leave for the purpose of service in the public interest. By vote of the Corporation, leave for more than two successive years is not possible. Resignation from the Harvard appointment is the only alternative to returning to University service after more than two consecutive years of leave. With regard to the frequency with which public service leaves may be taken, or intervals of time between such leaves, it is ordinarily expected that FAS faculty members will demonstrate their primary commitment to Harvard in a sustained fashion, over the course of multiple years.
 For the purposes of this policy on public service leave, being an “active member of the FAS faculty” entails full-time, non-retired status and participation, as appropriate, in the teaching, research, and service life of the FAS community.