Dean’s Letter Tops FAS Agenda

Faculty to discuss undergraduate curriculum, budget woes

The full Faculty will meet today to discuss how to improve undergraduate education, promote international study and expand natural science resources in the face of predicted financial constraints over the next year.

The agenda was unveiled in Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby’s first annual letter to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS).

And despite tight budgets, many professors say Kirby’s plan is as comprehensive as any they have seen.

“While it is an ambitious letter focusing on a broad range of topics, it is incredibly focused on key needs,” said Gutman Professor of Latin American Affairs John H. Coatsworth.

For the first time, Kirby laid out what he perceives to be the Faculty’s main tenets behind the current curricular reform.

But Kirby’s vision was accompanied by the grim reality that while the Faculty’s current financial situation is sound, serious efforts to curb spending will be necessary to keep the budget balanced.

The Harvard Corporation, the governing body responsible for distributing funds from the University’s endowment, is predicting only a 2 percent increase in the endowment payout for FAS over the next few years.

Kirby was clear in his letter that his goals would not be thwarted by the financial climate.

“I must tell you frankly that we aim to do this, and more, as we enter a greater period of financial constraint than any of us would have predicted a year ago,” he wrote.

Kirby promised to see through current building initiatives, such as the completion of the renovations of the Science Center and Widener Library, despite the overall need for more “prudent” spending. And he recognized the need for increased exercise and performance facilities.

Faculty members expressed concern over reconciling Kirby’s ambitious plans for growth with his call for belt-tightening measures.

“[This is] obviously not a sustainable situation in the long term,” said Ford Professor of Social Sciences David Pilbeam.

But Pilbeam pointed out that the beginning of former Deans of the Faculty Henry A. Rosovsky and Jeremy R. Knowles’ tenures were also marked by tough economic times and that such hurdles can be overcome.

“Some of the ambitious goals will be spaced out, but these things will happen,” he said.

And professors said that the reality of cutbacks did not detract from excitement over the rest of the dean’s vision for FAS—particularly his goals for reshaping the undergraduate experience at Harvard.

McKay Associate Professor of Environmental Engineering Ana J. Barros said she felt that this aspect was the portion of the letter that resonated most strongly with Faculty.