David Helfand

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David Helfand
David Helfand (left) at the 223rd AAS Meeting with speaker Roger Blandford (right).
Residence Canada
Nationality USA
Fields Astrophysics
Institutions Columbia University
Quest University
Alma mater Amherst College
University of Massachusetts
Doctoral advisor Joseph Taylor
Known for Views on tenure
Quest University

David J. Helfand is a U.S. astronomer who is the president of Quest University. Prior to his presidency at Quest, he was a Visiting Tutor at Quest. He has also served as chair of the Department of Astronomy at Columbia University and co-director of the Columbia Astrophysics Laboratory.[1] He was also part of the university's Physics Department. His stated research interests include radio surveys, the origin and evolution of neutron stars and supernova remnants, and active galactic nuclei. Helfand has been instrumental in the creation of general education classes oriented around the sciences, developing a course, Frontiers of Science, that has subsequently become part of the Core Curriculum of Columbia College, the university's undergraduate liberal arts and sciences division. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from Amherst College and a Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Helfand joined Quest University in British Columbia, Canada, as a Visiting Tutor in 2007.[2] In July of 2011, Helfand took a long-term leave of absence from Columbia and assumed the presidency of Quest.[3]

Viewpoints on tenure[edit]

Helfand notably declined an offer of tenure from Columbia in the early 1980s due to his belief that the tenure system does more to deny academic freedom to those who do not have tenure than it does to protect the freedom of those who do have tenure. He believes that it also selects the wrong fraction of smart people in society to play the important role of advancing knowledge and passing it on to the next generation. He advocates a system in which each senior professor's job performance is reviewed[4] every six years by a five-member ad hoc faculty committee, which would then recommend whether the professor should be retained or dismissed. In such a system, each professor would serve on one such ad hoc committee per year, except for the year in which he himself is being reviewed. Although his proposed system is unorthodox, Columbia agreed to implement it in Helfand's case. His progressive education approach at Quest University has attracted media attention.[5]


  1. ^ David Helfand's website at Columbia University http://www.astro.columbia.edu/~djh/
  2. ^ David Helfand's Quest University Biography http://www.questu.ca/david_helfand.html
  3. ^ "Helfand now full-time president at Quest". The Squamish Chief. 18 July 2011. 
  4. ^ Helfand, D. (2011). "Higher education: Academic questions". Nature 477 (7363): 158. doi:10.1038/477158a.  edit
  5. ^ Lewin, Tamar (20 January 2012). "David Helfand's New Quest". New York Times. Retrieved 9 March 2012.