Deficit Strains FAS Budgets

Some department administrators questioned the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ capacity to close its $35 million deficit by the 2012 self-imposed deadline, citing already painfully slim budgets.

Last spring, FAS Dean Michael D. Smith said the school would eliminate the deficit—reduced from some $220 million after the recession first hit—by the end of the 2012 fiscal year though a combination of budget cuts and withdrawals from FAS reserve funds.

“Dean Smith has also acknowledged that many challenges remain,” FAS spokesperson Jeff Neal wrote in a statement. “In particular, from the beginning of the global financial crisis, he has said that the current fiscal year would be the most challenging. As a result, he has explained that the FAS would use some amount of reserves to bridge the gap this year.”

But administrators interviewed yesterday named faculty retirements and further centralization—including mergers of some centers and small departments—as potential avenues for further slashing the deficit.

While department administrators—many of whom requested anonymity to protect their relationship with the FAS administration—are quick to praise Smith’s deficit-shrinking initiatives, some said they fear whether fewer explicit references to the severity of the crisis has led to a false sense of normalcy.

The administrators expressed concern that the lack of financial discussion at the most recent Faculty meeting this past Tuesday represented this decreasing emphasis, as finances have been a consistent topic at Faculty meetings since the economic meltdown ravaged Harvard’s finances.

“They have to keep saying it, and we have to keep saying it: We haven’t solved the crisis,” history department Director of Administration Janet H. Hatch said.

But in a Jan. 20 meeting with department administrators, leaders within FAS presented a cautious, but non-specific message, according to another department administrator.

“They told us not to come to [the FAS central administration] unless we really, really needed something,” the administrator said. “Of course we’re going to go with them if we really need something.”

Many said that they already were running with the lowest budgets possible without impacting their departments’ curricular rigor.

“I’m not sure how they’re going to do it,” Hatch said. “We’re operating at a lower level, and we’re still maintaining that level—and there’s nothing else to cut.”

Administrators pointed to potential merging of departments and centers—and the centralization of staff as a result—as ways they expected FAS to balance its budget.

Some departments have already taken advantage of centralization. The History and History of Science departments last year began partially outsourcing the work of administrative assistants.

“The largest expenditure for most departments will be the retaining of faculty and staff,” another administrator said.

The administrator went on to assert that, for the same reason, the retirement package offered the past two years would financially benefit FAS. Searching for and hiring a junior faculty member would not cost as much as a veteran faculty member’s salary, she said.

The FAS fiscal year 2010 Annual Financial Report discusses the fiscal benefits from “organizational actions including an early retirement plan.”

Still, many faculty members accepting the package did so last year, administrators said, leaving department officials uncertain what future gains they can expect from the program.

—Staff writer Gautam S. Kumar can be reached at gkumar@college.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Sirui Li can be reached at sli@college.harvard.edu.

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