Signed by the top deans of the Faculty, the letter also put forward a new, more restrictive set of guidelines for what sort of candidates will be considered for “essential” instructorships and visiting faculty positions.
The new policy marks a considerable departure from the stance outlined by FAS Dean Michael D. Smith at a Faculty meeting in November, when he told department leaders to go ahead with all current searches if applicant pools remained as strong as anticipated.
Citing a projected 30 percent drop in the University’s endowment value this year, the deans wrote that the cost-cutting measures followed from a need to reduce the budget for the next fiscal year to levels at least $105 million below the current year’s budget. The Faculty’s budget for the fiscal year beginning on July 1, 2009 is set to be completed by March.
Department leaders were urged to keep news of the cuts quiet and withhold the information from colleagues until an official announcement at today’s Faculty meeting. A copy of the letter was obtained by The Crimson yesterday evening.
The deans’ letter re-confirmed Smith’s earlier commitment to maintaining a system of tenure-track promotion, and left open the possibility for a “small number of exceptions” to the ruling against tenure-track searches—a hint of flexibility that some professors said yesterday was encouraging.
“Frankly, if the University were to shut down all expansion, all hiring it would be a huge mistake in times like these, precisely when you need to be making smart investments and changing the University so that we’re stronger,” said biomedical engineering professor David A. Edwards.
Several professors, including Edwards, indicated yesterday that they had not yet read the letter, but that they were not taken aback by the measures it outlined, given the extent of the financial crisis.
“How could it be a surprise?” said comparative literature professor Ruth R. Wisse. “If there is a real budgetary slash, then obviously everybody has to bear their share of it in some way.”
“The easiest thing to do is to stop making new hires rather than to try and fire people,” she said.
In recognition of the difficult job market facing current graduate students, the deans also mentioned plans yesterday to develop a new position “akin to a teaching post-doc” for the University’s crop of newly-minted Ph.D. recipients.
The deans also asked that recent Ph.D. recipients, along with faculty from local institutions, be favored in situations where searches for non-ladder faculty instructors and visiting faculty are authorized as essential.
When asked why the deans requested that the news of the cuts be kept quiet until today, Smith wrote in an e-mailed statement, “I prefer to communicate directly with my faculty.”
“The Faculty Meeting gives me that opportunity. It also allows them to ask questions and offer comments.”
Harvard’s endowment—the largest in higher education—fell 22 percent in four months from its June 30 value of $36.9 billion, trumping the previous record loss of 12.4 percent in 1974, according to a letter from University President Drew G. Faust last week.
It was unclear yesterday how many faculty searches were pending and would be affected by the new policy. Faculty hiring has been in a "pause" period since April, when Smith informed professors that he was slowing down hiring to give FAS administrators a chance to take stock of how to move forward with their priorities.
Smith ground staff hiring to a halt in late November, setting administrators the task of finding what "critical" positions would still be filled.
The FAS leader wrote yesterday that he planned to comment more extensively on the letter’s policies in tomorrow’s Faculty meeting.
“This must be a nightmare for people who have to make these decisions,” said math professor Wilfried Schmid.
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