FAS Waits For Dean’s Initiative
In the midst of last year’s financial crisis, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith assembled six “working groups” to establish top Faculty priorities.
At the time, facing a budget deficit of over $200 million, Smith presented these groups as crucial for ensuring the long-term fiscal health of the University’s largest school.
But with the massive budget trimming process now entering a final stage where the decisions of the dean himself will be paramount, the role and efficacy of the de-centralized working groups—representing the three FAS academic divisions, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the College—as well as their continued relevance to the process remain an open question.
In a letter sent to administrators last month outlining the plan for the coming budgeting process, Dean of Administration and Finance Leslie A. Kirwan ’79 clarified the administration’s current understanding of the working groups’ role, while vowing to adhere more conscientiously to a budgeting tack, embraced over the past year, known as the ”first-dollar principle,” in which restricted funds are spent on a unit’s priorities before unrestricted funds.
“The Priority Working Groups affirmed that funding for core academic priorities must come first. This [first-dollar] approach is an extension of that direction,” Kirwan wrote, suggesting that the FAS administration is taking a broad interpretation of the working groups’ recommendations rather than implementing them line by line.
‘NOT AT LIBERTY’
Administrators and members of the groups have been hesitant to provide concrete examples of suggestions made in their working group reports, which were all handed over to Smith by the end of the fall semester, saying that working group members would only exercise the freedom to find truly creative and bold solutions if they were guaranteed privacy.
While individuals who were not members of the working groups were consulted regarding specific ideas, the working group reports were never released, and there is no plan to make them public going forward.
“To be honest, I’m not at liberty to say [what the report said],” said Sociology Chair Robert J. Sampson, who sat on the Social Science working group, in an interview last week. “It’s in a sense irresponsible to prematurely release information that hasn’t been vetted.”
But some of the working groups’ suggestions have been made public. Smith has discussed the likelihood of using outside grants that science professors receive for their research to pay parts of their salary by the time the Faculty reaches budgeting for 2011-2012—an idea proposed in the working group of FAS’s science division.
Doing so would “result in substantial personnel cost savings for FAS,” according to the official FAS Planning Web site, which specifies that the current salary levels would remain the same and that “FAS savings could be shared with faculty through additional research support.”
Other ideas that will be implemented include an update of the Registrar’s system so that courses may be more conveniently cross-listed, linking fundraising efforts to FAS goals, and organizing a new, more uniform system within FAS for providing research funds to faculty.
BUCKETS AND FUEL
Smith first announced that he would be forming the working groups at a town hall-style meeting in April 2009 as a way to involve faculty members in the monumental reduction of what was then a $220 million deficit.
But by the end of the summer, several of the newly coined working groups had yet to meet, even as the deficit was slashed in half. Still, Smith reiterated their crucial role in the ongoing budgeting process.