Last week, Faculty of Arts Dean Michael D. Smith announced he would lift the salary freezes placed on faculty and staff last winter by providing two percent merit-based raises to professors and increasing stipends for graduate students by three percent. The Harvard community has not been given a brief on the state of the budget since Sept. 15, so we are unsure of whether the announcement is a sign of budget security or an exception to the FAS policy of late that dictates trimming spending wherever possible. Regardless, Dean Smith’s spending decisions are misdirected. Given the numerous cuts the university has faced since the unfortunate implosion of the economy and subsequent drop in endowment value, several areas of the College need future funds more desperately than professors and graduate students.
We understand the College’s desire, which we share, to attract and retain the best faculty to Harvard in order to protect the quality of research and academics here, and we certainly recognize the value of monetary incentives. That said, we doubt that a modest raise of two percent will do much to keep professors from leaving or spark any noticeable improvements to the Harvard academic experience. Additionally, as one graduate student pointed out, the three percent stipend increase amounts to more funds for groceries but is unlikely to convince anyone to enroll in Harvard’s graduate program. Moreover, we hope that the deciding factor for why one ought to pursue an advance degree at Harvard is something other than the fact that it pays more than at other schools. Professors, moreover, have countless incentives to stay at Harvard besides economic ones.
The announcement that no additional funding will be cut from the Harvard College libraries is great news. We hope that, in the future, funds secured amidst changing budget structures will include similar measures. With any luck, the FAS’s new interest in reinstating secure spending policies will include reabsorbing laid-off staff members or reinstating cut hours as part of an effort to return services to the College and the university as a whole. The funds being directed toward professors and graduate students would conceivably have a bigger impact on the larger Harvard community if applied to initiatives such as bringing back hours in libraries and the Bureau of Study Council, serving hot breakfast, increasing hours for students who hold jobs on campus, and transitioning out of the hour reductions and furloughs many staff members face.
Harvard professors are currently the highest paid in the country, according to a report by the American Association of University Professors. When compounded with the level of prestige attendant to professorship here, most professors are deeply contented to be on the faculty of Harvard University. Similarly, many students are already eager to earn a graduate degree here; providing extra incentives need not be our priority right now. While the goal of preserving the quality of teaching and research at Harvard is an essential one, these raises will have little impact. Instead, Dean Smith should have directed FAS funds toward returning staff and services—spending for which the student benefits are much more certain.