FAS Staff Sign Buyout Packages

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences cautioned yesterday that it was still too early to state how many staffers are participating in its early retirement incentive program, leaving the figure—which will be crucial in making determinations about possible layoffs—a mystery as the 45-day window for deciding on the package came to a close.

The final numbers will remain unclear until early next week, since staffers who have accepted the package will still have seven days to change their minds, Robert P. Mitchell, the Faculty’s director of communications, wrote in an e-mailed statement yesterday.

But despite the silence, administrators are not working without any planning assumptions, according to Engineering Professor Frederick H. Abernathy, who said that FAS Dean for Administration and Finance Brett C. Sweet has acknowledged an expectation that 14 percent of eligible staffers would take the package.

According to Abernathy, who said the statement came in response to a question he posed at a talk in late March, Sweet added that he had made the projection because a similar package offered at Dartmouth was accepted by about 14 percent of eligible recipients.

Sweet declined to comment for this article, and the Dartmouth News Office could not be reached for confirmation of the figure late last night, but The Dartmouth, the University’s student newspaper, did report in February that almost 15 percent of eligible staffers had accepted the school’s offer of a retirement package. Just three weeks after Dartmouth’s deadline for accepting the package, the University’s administration announced that they would be laying off 60 staffers.

FAS officials said at a meeting with administrators in February that following Harvard’s deadline for acceptance of the package, the University would reassess budgets before beginning any discussions about layoffs with the Office of the General Counsel and human resources officials.

Bill Jaeger, director of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers, which includes over 1000 FAS staffers, said that his union would also be actively involved in talks with the administrators if layoffs are broached in the aftermath of the retirement package, and would look to find an alternative to job cuts.

“There’s a provision in our agreement for consultation and serious discussion with our Union and affected employees in any situation where Harvard considers changes that would result in layoffs,” Jaeger said.

Jaeger added that, as the Union waits for the numbers on the retirement incentive program, many believe that the scheme may have distinct benefits.

“A lot of people are hopeful that this program’s going to give us options and flexibility and help to minimize layoffs,” Jaeger said.

With the window for acceptance of the retirement package now closed, it remains unclear for departments whether having a staffer retire is a curse or a blessing.

Susan R. Suleiman, chair of the literature and comparative literature department, said that the retirement of the literature concentration’s administrator, Barbara J. Akiba, will make up a “decent chunk” of the 15 percent budget cut that the FAS administration has requested of all departments.

“The fact that Barbara has retired is a sort of gift to the department,” she said, adding that it has helped the small department avoid having to make any “slash-and-burn decisions.”

But Theodore C. Bestor, chair of the anthropology department, said that in light of a slow-down on staff hiring this fall, he would see a staff retirement within the department as a loss as well as a saving.

“It would mean that somebody we rely on would suddenly not be there,” he said.

—Peter F. Zhu contributed to the reporting of this story.

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

—Staff writer Noah S. Rayman can be reached at nrayman@fas.harvard.edu.