Recession Hits Universities Hard

Yale Is Proposing Drastic Cuts to Trim Its Budget. But FAS Members Say Such Steps Are Unlikely Here.

Times are tough for everyone this year in recession-ridden New England, and academia is no exception.

Feeling the crunch of depreciating investments and falling government funding, many schools are resorting to cost-cutting measures that range from minor--delaying maintenance and canceling book purchases--to drastic--eliminating faculty positions and even entire departments.

Last month, a committee at Yale University recommended that the school cut a minimum of 114 faculty positions by attrition over the next 10 years. Such cuts would reduce the size of the faculty by 10.7 percent.

The committee suggested that two departments, linguistics and operations research, be closed, along with a social policies research center. In addition, it recommended sharp cuts for the engineering, physics and sociology departments.

Such cost-saving measures are intended to bridge the New Haven school's projected budget gap of $8.8 million. Though it has an endowment of $2.5 billion, Yale is facing both a decline in major sources of income and the possibility of having to return millions of dollars in federal money after audits of allegedly improper use of research funds.

Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) is feeling many of the same pressures, according to Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles, with a projected deficit of nearly $12 million in a budget of approximately $1 billion.

Caution and Hope

But at Harvard, the mood seems to be one of caution and hope. While Harvard does not have a budget review committee like the one at Yale, Knowles says the Faculty is acutely aware of the need to bridge the budget gap.

"We're analyzing the situation," the dean says. "I'm very concerned...that we look hard at what we do, because we probably will have to trim ourselves."

Harvard faculty have already felt the effects of cuts, although none as deep as Yale is proposing. In 1990, then-acting FAS Dean Henry Rosovsky froze nonessential administrative hires, reduced the number of administrators and staff, and decreased departmental budgets by six percent.

Knowles is currently writing a letter to the Faculty about its financial situation. He is discussing the letter, which should be sent within the next several weeks, with President Neil L. Rudenstine.

Harvard faculty members, including those in the departments of linguistics and sociology, insist that the University's situation is different from Yale's, and that there is little immediate fear of cuts as major as those at Yale.

Professor of Sociology Theda Skocpol, a member of the Faculty Council, says Harvard's deficit is smaller in proportion to its overall budget than Yale's.

"The feeling is that the situation is a serious one, but not dire," she says. "The perception seems to be that with...wise judgements we can overcome our budget problems."

"I don't think the situation is as grave as it is at Yale," she says.