Arts Task Force Urges Major Changes

The University-wide Task Force on the Arts appointed last fall called for sweeping changes to the undergraduate curriculum and graduate programs and the construction of major new arts facilities in a report released yesterday.

But the report comes at an inauspicious time for University budgets, now feeling the effects of the worst financial crisis in decades, and some of the report’s more ambitious proposals will likely have to wait as a result.

University administrators are scrambling to deal with a precipitous decline in Harvard’s endowment, which fell 22 percent—or roughly $8 billion—in the four months ending Oct. 31.

In response, some of Harvard’s schools have begun slashing budgets.

Both the FAS and the Medical School recently called for 10-15 percent reductions in their budgets, and just two days ago, top FAS deans told department chairs to pause the majority of current searches for tenure-track and tenured faculty.

The 19-member task force assembled last fall recognizes that it will not be easy clearing the financial hurdles to implement many of the recommendations called for in the report.

“The vision that we have is serious, time-consuming, and, in some cases, costly,” they wrote in the report, “but the measures we propose are, in our view, necessary.”

But Stephen J. Greenblatt, the English professor heading the task force, said yesterday that he did not know how likely it was that the proposed initiatives would be funded in the coming years.

“I have no idea at all, honestly,” Greenblatt said. “But I’m very hopeful that the University will begin to move in the direction that the task force is calling for right now.”

Though the primary proposals—a new Dramatic Arts undergraduate concentration, fully-funded graduate programs, and construction and renovation projects in Cambridge and Allston—are unlikely to be implemented in the next few years, University President Drew G. Faust said yesterday that a couple of recommendations can be addressed immediately. For example, Faust said, the University may be able to bring in artists-in-residence in coming semesters.

“Even in these moments of financial stress, we do have funds specifically designated for arts activities,” Faust said.

Faust added that $5 million of a recent $100 million gift from longtime Harvard benefactor David Rockefeller ’36 had been earmarked for arts initiatives, such as those proposed by the task force.

Plans to incorporate an art-making component into the General Education curriculum and create a new Dramatic Arts concentration will likely be affected by the hold on faculty searches at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Greenblatt said.

But this may have less impact on short-term goals, most of which focus on soliciting input from the Harvard community.

“We’re not planning for tomorrow night,” Greenblatt said.

The task force also called for a University-wide center for arts-related projects—”provisionally dubbed the ‘Hothouse.’” The report also stressed that representatives of the Harvard arts community should have a seat “at the table” for discussions about the ongoing Allston expansion.

But Faust said the University is reevaluating all current capital projects, possibly pushing back consideration of proposed construction projects.

“Big kinds of visions will be visions for the future and not for the immediate term,” she said.

—Staff writer June Q. Wu can be reached at