FAS Needs To ‘Curb Spending,’ Kirby Says

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) is feeling the effects of the sour economy and, for the first time in a decade, will have to adopt frugal spending policies or risk major budget deficits as soon as the year 2005.

In his first annual letter to the Faculty, released last week, Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby warned that if serious belt-tightening measures are not immediately undertaken, the Faculty may be forced to implement “double digit budget cuts and other dramatic measures in order to meet debt payments and other obligations.”

The last time the Faculty was faced with serious financial troubles was in the early 1990s. When Houghton Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Jeremy R. Knowles assumed the deanship he inherited an $11.7 million deficit.

Knowles balanced the budget and the FAS has been generating surpluses for the past few years.

But those surpluses are shrinking, Kirby wrote in his letter.

“The Faculty ended fiscal year 2002 with a $22.6 million increase in net operating assets, down from the $45.6 million increase realized in fiscal year 2001,” Kirby said.

At this point, it is unclear exactly where the Faculty will choose to pinch its pennies.

The Faculty Council, an advisory body to the dean that sets the agenda for Faculty meetings, was briefed yesterday on the fiscal status of the FAS by Associate Dean for Finance Cheryl Hoffman-Bray.

Hoffman-Bray was not available for comment.

But council members, who said they have been aware of the impending budget problems for some time, said they believe the situation is far from dire.

“It’s a serious warning, but we’re not in a crisis,” said Professor of the History of Science Everett I. Mendolsohn, a member of the council.

At yesterday’s meeting, the Faculty Council was assured that all current building projects would be finished as planned and that tough economic times would not thwart the ongoing goal of increasing the size of the Faculty.

But a cap on new building initiatives and other long-term projects may be needed to keep FAS budgets out of the red, council members predicted yesterday.

“Within the next year there will be no visible effects,” Mendelsohn said. “What will happen in following years is that the increase in activities will have to be slowed.”

Council members also anticipated that to meet the demands of a tightened budget, the time lines on certain long-term projects—such as the potential relocation of parts of FAS to the University’s property in Allston—may need to be extended.

Harvard is not the first major university to suffer from today’s poor economic climate, Kirby explained in his letter. Other schools have been forced to lay off workers and dramatically cut back on projects and programs.

In order to avoid a similar fate, the Faculty must take preemptive action, Kirby said.

“To assure the strength on which academic excellence stands, we must and will be careful,” Kirby said in his letter. “The Faculty’s cooperation in…curbing spending will allow us to move forward in support of our common goals.”

—Staff writer Rebecca D. O’Brien can be reached at robrien@fas.harvard.edu.