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Smith Letter Looks At Reorganization

FAS dean offers specifics on new duties of the divisional deans

In a letter e-mailed to Faculty members yesterday afternoon, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith touched on topics ranging from administrative reorganization, to the undergraduate curriculum, to the effects of the recent financial crisis.

The six-page letter marked the beginning of a new annual tradition outlined by Smith at a meeting of the Faculty last year, in which the retrospective year-end report typically distributed by the FAS dean is supplemented by a shorter, more forward-looking correspondence in the fall.

“My predecessors did talk about future in their annual report,” Smith said in an interview last month. “But I wanted a document to look at the future to begin the year, as opposed to just ending the year. We’re trying to communicate better with the whole FAS community.”

Yesterday’s correspondence offered the most specific example to date of the increased responsibilities of the divisional deans—the cross-departmental administrators whose role Smith pledged to enhance last year.

In what marks a distinct uptick in their budgetary authority, the divisional deans, according to the letter, will be given an “offer budget” to pay for faculty recruitment for the departments under their purviews.

Further administrative changes for the coming year included the establishment of larger discretionary budgets for the academic deans—a group that, in addition to the divisional deans, includes the Dean of the College, the Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Smith included in the introduction to his letter a reminder that “all is not rosy” going forward, given the effect that the recent failure of many prominent financial institutions may have on the Faculty’s finances.

The effects of the crunch, together with rising costs of food, energy, and construction, and increased congressional scrutiny of spending at major universities, have led to increased budgetary concerns, Smith said.

The FAS ran a deficit in the fiscal year ending in July because of increased spending on activities like construction and financial aid, and the recent turbulence in the financial markets could exacerbate the fiscal pressures.

“This deficit, if not addressed,” Smith noted in the letter, “will hamper campus renewal and will stifle educational innovation.”

Smith has so far been closed-mouthed on what specific plans he might institute to deal with the deficit, but in previous interviews and in yesterday’s letter, he stressed a more transparent budgeting process, and targeted planning for an upcoming capital campaign, which University officials say may start as soon as 2011.

“We are going through a process in the College and the graduate school asking what their priorities are, where is it that they’re doing well,” Smith said in a September interview. “It’s much more information gathering right now than it is, ‘We’re cutting this program, and we’re funding this one.’”

Smith said that new fundraising would be geared toward increasing the Faculty’s unrestricted funds to allow funding for recent initiatives like financial aid expansions and funding for graduate students.

James H. Stock, chair of the economics department, said yesterday that he believed that the idea of issuing a fall letter was a good one.

“I think the idea of a fall letter is a great one,” he said. “In the past, transparency has not been a strong suit of University Hall, and this is definitely a step in the right direction.”

—Staff writer Christian B. Flow can be reached at cflow@fas.harvard.edu. 
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