Law School Will Cut Staff To Trim Budget

Acting Dean says layoffs are inevitable due to drop in endowment payout

Harvard Law School will lay off staff members in response to budgetary constraints imposed by University administrators, acting Dean Howell E. Jackson said Monday.

The likely layoffs come amidst continued estimates of a 30 percent decline in endowment value by year’s end and a corresponding reduction in the endowment payout—a major source of funding for the University’s different schools that accounts for 40 percent of the Law School’s annual revenue.

A recent University request for a 10 percent reduction in the Law School budget has made staff layoffs inevitable as the school works to maintain its commitments to financial aid and its educational priorities, Jackson said in an interview with The Crimson Monday.

“These are material changes that will affect our budgets in future years,” Jackson said. “We will need to reduce our staff levels in order to live within our new means.”

But at this stage, the magnitude of future layoffs remains unclear, and will depend on the participation rate that the school sees in an early retirement incentive program for staff that will conclude next week, according to Marie H. Bowen, an assistant dean and chief human resources officer at the Law School.

To supplement the results of the early retirement program and diminish the need for layoffs, the Law School will try to keep currently unfilled staff positions empty in order to trim operating expenses, Jackson said.

But how effective this hiring “chill” will be at closing the gap in the school’s budget remains to be seen.

“If we can use the chilled positions that would obviously be easier, but my expectation will be that we will have some layoffs in [the upcoming fiscal year],” he said.

Jackson emphasized Monday that any decision to lay off workers would be carefully weighed “to make sure it’s the right choice.”

But according to labor activist and first-year law student Marissa A. Vahlsing, the school has already initiated de facto staff cuts, asking subcontractors to cut their expenses, which has resulted in job losses and the summer closure of a cafe in the basement of Harkness Commons, the Law School student center.

Student labor activists present at a brief private meeting with Jackson last week said that the acting Dean was unaware of the impending cafe closure and criticized the lack of transparency in the decision making process regarding layoffs.

Student activists have recently disputed the notion that the University’s core mission revolves around its educational mission—a central argument behind the administration’s justification for staff layoffs.

Laura M. Binger, a third year law student who said Jackson made that claim during the recent meeting with labor activists, expressed her concern over what she views as a distortion of Harvard’s mission.

Recent weeks have seen a proliferation of labor protests at the College over staff layoffs, but student activists at the Law School expressed concern over their peers’ apparent lack of engagement with the issue, which they say poses a potential hurdle to mounting layoff protests similar to those at the College.

—Staff writer Elias J. Groll can be reached at egroll@fas.harvard.edu.