Dean Smith Shifts FAS Focus From Budget

After leading the University’s largest school through a trying process of closing a $220 million deficit since 2008, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith said yesterday that he plans to focus on academic issues going forward.

In an interview with The Crimson yesterday, Smith said that he will outline his academic priorities and review the state of FAS finances at the first Faculty meeting of the semester on Oct. 6. He declined to specify the nature of his renewed priorities before the upcoming gathering, but said that he plans to focus on “teaching and learning.”

The recent $35 million deficit projection is still at the fore of Smith’s priorities, he said, but the coming year would move away from an environment defined by budget-strapping and focus on opportunities to revisit goals that had preceded the financial crisis.

“I had priorities when I started as dean,” said Smith, who assumed the deanship in July 2007. A year and a half later, the University announced that its endowment had lost 30 percent of its value in the wake of the financial downturn.

Because the crisis hit so soon after he took the helm, Smith’s original priorities fell by the wayside and he has spent the years since working to bridge FAS’s nearly quarter-billion dollar deficit through measures such as staff reductions and hiring restrictions. The school has now closed $185 million of the $220 million deficit announced in the spring of 2008.

And at the upcoming Faculty meeting, Smith will deliver the first budgetary update to the community since its last meeting in the spring. But Smith said that he does not plan to reverse the reduction in staff positions and other changes that FAS has made over the past year and a half.

“I think the vast majority of the changes...that we made across the Faculty of Arts and Sciences have actually been beneficial,” Smith said. “That’s not to say they haven’t been painful.”

Despite the progress in closing the financial gap, FAS continues to face a tight budget, Smith said: “We’re not going to staff back up to where we were before because we can’t afford those types of changes.”

The pace of faculty hiring will also remain depressed from its pre-crisis levels. Smith said that the number of hires this year will mirror the number from last year, when FAS sought to fill 31 faculty positions.

But Smith said he expects to be able to turn his attention to earlier priorities, such as “teaching and learning.” That issue was raised in a Jan. 2007 report by the Task Force on Teaching and Career Development that presented a critical view of pedagogy at Harvard and laid out a series of reforms.

The report, which recommended that the University focus on teaching and advising, called for the administration to “commit the necessary resources and leadership to back up our efforts.”

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

—Staff writer Elyssa A.L. Spitzer can be reached at spitzer@fas.harvard.edu.

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