Smith To Host Town Hall on FAS Finances

With his administration on the brink of a sweeping fiscal review that could lead to layoffs, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith will host a town hall meeting today, discussing the state of the Faculty’s finances before an unprecedented group of stakeholders.

In lieu of the regular Faculty meeting that had been scheduled for today, Smith will discuss the budgetary challenges facing the Faculty before opening the floor for questions from professors, staff, and selected student leaders gathered in Sanders Theatre, according to FAS spokesman Robert P. Mitchell.

The town hall meeting comes one day after the conclusion of an early retirement incentive program offered to FAS staff workers—a milestone in the budgeting process that will provide information necessary to evaluate spending for next year. Staffers who accepted the package during the 45-day election period had until yesterday to revoke their decisions.

In an interview February, Smith said the administration would use the results of the early retirement program to reevaluate the budget and determine whether staff layoffs will be necessary. The fewer staffers decide to take the package, the higher the possibility of layoffs will be, Smith said.

According to a guidebook for FAS departments that details planning procedures for next year’s budget, the administration will know the number of retirees in each department by mid-April. Departments that may need to initiate job cuts after the program’s end have been instructed to devise provisional lists of workers who might be laid off, and top FAS deans would make any final decisions on layoffs no earlier than the end of this month.

“I’m sure once [FAS administrators] know how many people take the early retirement offer, they’ll know how much it’s costing them and how much they’re saving,” said professor and former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68. “But they couldn’t really make a plan until they knew that.”

Faculty and staff said they hope the meeting will clarify a now hazy fiscal picture, especially in light of last month’s revelation that endowment funding for Harvard schools will fall 8 percent next year—a far steeper drop than expected. But some are more doubtful that Smith will unveil any groundbreaking initiatives at the meeting.

“I don’t have a sense that there’s going to be any big announcement or startling changes in direction,” said Bill Jaeger, director of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers. “If there was, I don’t think they’d do it this way.”

In a departure from typical Faculty meetings, the town hall gathering will expand its attendance to staff and 22 student leaders of student groups like the Committee on Undergraduate Education, according to Undergraduate Council President Andrea R. Flores ’10.

History department financial administrator Cory Paulsen, who has worked at Harvard for about two decades, said she has not ever witnessed the degree of transparency offered by the town hall meeting. She said she suspects that for most of the question-and-answer session, individuals will express their fears of impending layoffs.

“It will be good for people who aren’t really in a position where they have to possibly lose an odd job or home, to hear the voice of someone who is actually facing that,” Paulsen said. “I think it’s going to be pretty intense.”

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

—Staff writer Bonnie J. Kavoussi can be reached at kavoussi@fas.harvard.edu.