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VP To Focus on Labor Relations

By Leon Neyfakh, Crimson Staff Writer

Labor relations at Harvard may garner more attention from top administrators at Mass. Hall next semester when they welcome a new vice president for human resources—a previously nonexistent position which may give workers a voice closer to the Office of the President.

A search committee of union leaders and University officials has been assembled to find a replacement for current human resources head Polly Price, who will retire from her position as associate vice president for human resources on Sept. 1. In place of the traditional associate vice president—who answers to the vice president for administration—the new top-level official will work directly under University President Lawrence H. Summers, a change union leaders say will bolster the influence of the Human Resources department.

Human Resources spokesperson Merry Touborg said the new vice president will have some authority over the human resources offices at all the University’s schools—something the associate vice president does not.

“That person has no authority over [other human resources heads] except to urge them to adopt certain behaviors and practices,” Touborg said. “It’s part of the autonomy that the schools have always had.”

According to Price, universities around the country have been implementing similar changes to their dministrative hierarchies in recent years, though she was not certain about the origins of the trend.

University Provost Steven E. Hyman wrote in an e-mail that the creation of the new position will benefit Harvard employers and employees alike, helping the University attract the most desirable and talented staff.

“The retirement of the current [associate vice president] presented us with an opportunity to re-think this role,” Hyman wrote. “Harvard has excellent people who work here already, but there is tremendous competition among employers. We felt that increasing the visibility of this function would enable us to compete more effectively to recruit and retain the very best people.”

Bill Jaeger, director of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW), said he will pay close attention to the type of person who gets hired, as the new vice president’s personal approach to management will define the direction of the University’s labor relations.

“There’s different kinds of philosophies out there about managing people,” Jaeger said. “Everybody in the human resources world says that they’re interested in training, but if you look at people’s records, some of them are much more focused on controlling costs, and finding ways to operate more efficiently with fewer people.”

Jaeger said that although it would be preferable to have someone lined up for the new position before Price steps down, the search committee will take its time to find the right person for the job.

“The search committee is looking for someone who has experience in decentralized, complex institutions and can ensure that core activities such as benefits and compensation run efficiently and effectively,” Hyman wrote. “But, most importantly, we need someone who can think strategically about Harvard’s policies and practices so that staff and administrators can perform at their very best to support our faculty and students.”

According to Christopher Kruegler, who is assistant dean of Faculty of Arts and Sciences human resources, the idea to change the position may have come from a committee investigating the effectiveness of “work security”—a clause in HUCTW’s contract which guarantees laid off workers preference in hiring for open University positions.

Jaeger, who sits on the search committee, said the new position will centralize work security, a program he said has only been sporadically enforced in the past. According to Jaeger, the Vice President may work in conjunction with the tentatively titled Central Office of Work Security—a new division established during HUCTW’s recent round of negotiations with the University—to ensure that managers honor their contractual obligations.

Price, retiring after almost 20 years at Harvard, has been serving as associate vice president since 1996. During her time here, she oversaw union negotiations and worked to expand employee education and skill training. Price helped guide changes to the University’s labor policies, working with the recommendations of the Harvard Committee on Employment and Contracting Policies, which former University president Neil L. Rudenstine assembled in response to the Living Wage Campaign’s 2001 occupation of Mass. Hall.

Whoever takes on the new vice president position may face a similarly turbulent atmosphere, as the University continues downsizing its workforce and cutting budgets at every level of operation to make way for development in Allston and expansion of the sciences.

—Staff writer Leon Neyfakh can be reached at neyfakh@fas.harvard.edu.

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