As Harvard begins to confront its most severe budgetary and financial contraction in a generation, administrators in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences have unveiled $77 million of budget cuts, slashing everything from paid consultants to hot breakfast in the dining halls. FAS leaders should be lauded for making serious budget cuts, given that many of them will be painful. However, a number of the small cuts—notably the significant reductions in Harvard’s shuttle service to the Radcliffe Quadrangle and the layoffs of House-based administrative staff—would save only a small amount of money while having a disproportionately negative impact on the lives of many undergraduates.
Still, it is neither serious nor intellectually honest to point out problems with the proposed cuts without providing alternatives. In fact, when FAS administrators presented their plans at a public forum in Quincy House, they seemed to invite—albeit with a hint of defensiveness—suggestions about other cuts, an invitation that came after a student asked why top administrators are not taking pay reductions.
Having spent several hours both studying the structure of FAS and the College and conducting private interviews with administrators, it’s clear to me that there is a significant amount of dead wood in both organizations, most of it in the areas that have seen the most staff growth in recent years. Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith—who, it must be said, is responsible for quite a bit of this bureaucratic overgrowth—should strongly consider laying off some of the following staff before he implements cuts that would have a considerably more adverse effect on students.
First, as it already seems to be doing, the College could cut staff from the Advising Programs Office, which has grown considerably in just the past few years. Associate Dean of Advising Programs Monique Rinere, who was hired from Princeton and is leaving for Columbia, is responsible for much of this aimless expansion. The College is making the right decision in keeping her position vacant. Likewise, at least three of the remaining seven members of Rinere’s department can be laid off.
While reducing staffing in the advising office, it would also be wise to cancel Rinere’s brainchild, the wasteful Peer Advising Fellows program. The PAF program enrolls about 190 upperclassmen and pays them $1,000 per year. By contrast, the old prefect program, which accomplished the same goals, cost the College virtually nothing. With Rinere leaving, there is no reason not to go back to the day when the only thing that upperclass mentors earned was the right to eat in Annenberg.
Similarly, there is a tremendous amount of room to cut within the larger FAS administration. The most obvious place to start cutting is the FAS Office of Communications, led by Director of Communications Robert P. Mitchell. This office could easily be merged with its university-wide counterpart. In fact, the university’s communications staff could likely absorb the responsibility of managing public relations for FAS with just one additional staff member, and the rest of the FAS communications staff can be let go.
Additionally, FAS has become overstuffed in recent years with a number of financial administrators, a hiring binge that took place out of a desire to get a better handle on the FAS endowment and gear up for a new capital campaign. With the downturn making these concerns largely irrelevant, the finance staff seems like a logical place to scale back. The newly hired deputies of administrators like Associate Dean for Finance Deena Giancotti and Senior Associate Dean and Director for Development Paul Keenan could likely go, given that FAS operated adequately without them just a few years ago.
Perhaps the most significant bloat in FAS has come from Smith’s decision to create a new layer of bureaucracy by hiring a significant amount of support staff for each of the three divisional deans. Even during flush times, many professors questioned this strategy, arguing that large divisional offices would be a waste of precious resources on non-academic staff.
Just a year or so after Smith “empowered” divisional deans, this criticism seems to be on the mark. The three senior staff members in each division—a total of nine—should probably be eliminated. At the very least, the positions of administrative deans Russ Porter (science), Beverly Beatty (social sciences), and Sara Oseasohn (humanities) ought to be cut, with the work taken up by the divisional deans themselves. And, if the divisional deans—all of whom are tenured professors—are receiving any significant remuneration from University Hall, they should consider returning these supplementary salaries for the duration of the fiscal crunch.
There is no doubt that there must be layoffs among the administrative staff who support students and faculty, and FAS leaders ought to be applauded for making real reductions. But not all cuts are equal, and FAS should focus on those that have the least impact on students and faculty. A logical way to go about making cuts is to scale back the most recent growth, a principle that would mean reductions in offices like advising, communications, finance, and the divisional deans. While these cuts might not be enough to stave off steps like reducing the shuttle schedule and laying off House-based staff, eliminating bureaucratic positions first would at least ensure that the FAS is putting its core missions above all else.
Paras D. Bhayani ’09, a former Crimson managing editor, is an economics concentrator in Pforzheimer House.