Union To Meet With Dean Smith

In the few days since Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith responded to mounting financial concerns with a freeze on staff hiring, officials of a union representing hundreds of FAS staffers have been working to meet with him to minimize the fallout from the decision.

A representative of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers—a 5800-person organization that draws about a third of its membership from FAS—said yesterday that union officials were organizing a meeting with Smith for this week, and would look to emphasize the importance of staff support to the educational mission while exploring alternative cost-cutting measures.  

“Reducing staffing levels in our view has a direct effect on the quality of education and research,” said Bill Jaeger, HUCTW’s director. “When you cut staffing levels, you’re putting the quality of the educational and research enterprise in some jeopardy.”

Jaeger also said that HUCTW representatives would look to clarify the precise nature of the measures FAS is taking. In a letter to faculty and select officials last Monday announcing the staff hiring freeze, Smith offered little information about the longevity or intensity of the hiring halt, saying only that it would extend to all positions except those deemed “critical.”

“We would deem a lot of positions to be critical, so there’s a lot that needs to be figured out,” Jaeger said.

“I think its a good time for us to be reminding people that the staff are partners with the faculty in carrying out research and delivering education,” he said. “And in some areas of the student experience, I don’t think its presumptuous to say that the staff play a more hands on role than the faculty do.”

Contacted for comment yesterday, Smith wrote in an e-mail that he had already received a message from HUCTW leadership last week, and was “look[ing] forward to speaking directly with their leadership.”

But the FAS dean is only one of HUCTW’s targets as it looks to shed more light on the implications of the current financial crisis for the University’s staff members.

“From our union’s point of view, FAS is only one of the schools of the University,” Jaeger said. “It’s a big and challenging set of financial problems, and it’s also one that might be able to be resolved without these cuts, and we’re working with University leaders to put that forward.”

FAS staff do not appear to be universally alarmed by the recent freeze, which did not affect any currently occupied positions.

Peter Arvidson, who works as a coordinator in the Molecular and Cellular Biology department, wrote in an e-mail that with no layoffs currently on the table, he took Smith’s announcement of the freeze as a reassuring indication that the dean intended to focus on current staff.

“As a staff member I feel you just have to keep doing your job and do it in an excellent manner,” Arvidson wrote. “We are all in some way integral to the success of the University. You can make your staff position ‘critical’ by doing it well.”

Despite Arvidson’s optimism, Jaeger did not rule out the specter of future layoffs.

“It’s a good time to be in a union,” he said, before noting that in such a large institution, it would be foolish to expect to avoid firings entirely. 

“There’s never been a month in my 20 years at the union where nobody got laid off at the university,” he said, referring to normal fluctuations in employment. “Saying ‘no layoffs’ is an oversimplification, so we’re going to make sure that there is as little impact as possible on our members because of this.”

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