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From a fiscal nightmare to a campus shooting, 2009 had it all

By Crimson News Staff, Crimson Staff Writer


Life tenures aren't the norm around Harvard, and administrators phase in and out of posts, but 2009 was host to a few surprising resignations—and they didn't bode too well for a University in dire need of the best advice and talent during a time of especial fiscal constraints. In late May, Harvard announced that its then-Executive Vice President Edward C. Forst '82 would leave the University for Wall Street, where he had worked for 26 years. But Forst was not the only high-profile finance administrator to leave the University at the tail end of the academic year. A little more than a month after the news of Forst's resignation, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith announced that FAS' then-primary finance guru, Brett C. Sweet, would be leaving Harvard in late July to head over to Vanderbilt University. Sweet, the FAS dean of administration and finance, and Forst both left after less than a year on their respective jobs. Since Forst and Sweet's departures, the positions have been filled by Katherine N. Lapp and Leslie A. Kirwan '79, respectively.

But fiscal expertise wasn't the only area that underwent flux in leadership. Harvard Business School Dean Jay O. Light announced in December that he will step down at the end of this school year. In a more bygone instance, then-Harvard Law School Dean Elena Kagan announced in January that she planned to resign the deanship, which she has held since 2003. Kagan had been nominated to serve as then-President-elect Barack Obama's solicitor-general, the administration's representative to the Supreme Court. Kagan was confirmed as the nation's first female Solicitor General in March, and Martha Minow—a long-time Harvard Law School professor—took the HLS deanship in July.


This fall, three House master couples announced their departure in the span of less than two weeks—add that to the two House masters who stepped down at the end of the previous school year, and 2009 means new management for five of the 12 undergraduate Houses.

On Nov. 26, Eliot House masters Lino Pertile and Anna Bensted were the first to announce their departure. The couple, who have served as Eliot's masters for ten years, creatively sent the House community word of their departure in the form of a letter describing an interaction between Pertile and the ghost of former University President and House namesake Charles W. Eliot. Just three days later, Cabot House masters Jay M. Harris and Cheryl L. Harris e-mailed the Cabot community with word that they too would be stepping down. Jay Harris, who serves as dean of undergraduate education, and his wife Cheryl, a school psychologist at Sharon High School, cited heavy responsibilities in other areas of their work as their reason for leaving after seven years leading the house. Finally, on Dec. 9, Mather masters Sandra F. Naddaff ’75 and Leigh G. Hafrey ’73 announced their departure after 18 years as masters, the longest tenure of any current masters. Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds has yet to announce who will take over the three vacant House master positions.

These couples are not the only House leaders to depart in recent memory. Last fall, both the Pforzheimer House masters and Winthrop House masters announced that they would step down at the end of the 2008-2009 school year. In February, Dean Hammonds appointed sociology professor Nicholas A. Christakis and his wife Erika L. Christakis '86 as the new Pfoho House masters and Law School Professor Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. and Law School lecturer Stephanie Robinson as the new Winthrop masters, making the latter pair the first black House masters in Harvard history.


After years of planning and preparation, a new University-wide calendar took effect this fall. Under the new schedule, which was approved by the Harvard Corporation in 2007, Harvard dispensed with its traditional mix of schedules in favor of starting all classes at the beginning of September and having students finish papers and exams before Winter Break. While most welcomed the worry-free break provided by the new calendar, many students and professors struggled to adapt to the condensed fall reading period.

Along with the revised calendar came a new between-semester break, known as January Term. After the calendar change was adopted, College students and administrators began envisioning program ideas for J-Term, ranging from intensive language study to classes on metalsmithing. However, this past April, Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds announced that the College's financial situation had forced it to abort its plans to offer J-Term programming.

At the beginning of fall semester, the College announced that it would only allow thesis writers, students working in labs, international students, and members of 19 varsity sports teams to remain on campus during the January break, which runs from Jan. 4 to Jan. 24 this year. Students hoping to stay on campus were required to fill out an application detailing their need to stay and the dates they planned to be on campus. Confusion arose in late September when an e-mail Ameer sent to undergraduate directors of studies left students and faculty confused over whether or not all thesis writers would be granted housing. In the end, the college ultimately approved over 93 percent of those who applied to stay on campus during January—a total of 1,316 students.


Call it Swine Flu, H1N1, or whatever you like, the flu outbreak that sickened people across the country and worried many more left its mark on Harvard during the past year. Harvard University Health Services (UHS) officials began preparing for the potential outbreak before a single case had been diagnosed on campus. After popping up in local schools, the virus first made its Harvard debut at Harvard Dental School, which closed temporarily after detecting its first case. At the end of last school year, UHS refrained from testing patients for H1N1 unless they were at risk for complications, but suggested that the Harvard community forgo “the traditional handshakes and embraces that accompany graduation ceremonies” because of an uptick in the number of students presenting flu-like symptoms. Fall semester brought a significant increase in the number of students with "influenza-like illnesses" and ill students were quarantined in Stillman Infirmary, their own single bedrooms, or other unoccupied dorm rooms. UHS ordered thousands of doses of the H1N1 vaccine and College administrators prepped to respond to increasing numbers of sickened students. Harvard began distributing the H1N1 vaccine to select groups in November and made it available to all people under 24 December. After all the panic and preparation, the University appears to have emerged from the epidemic with little more than a runny nose.


Ah yes, the Undergraduate Council. Forgive us. But who can call it a satisfying school year without an appearance made by our governing body? It all began on the night of Nov. 19, when the UC Election Commission decided to "de-certify" the results of the presidential election released that night, leaving the student body in confusion and the decision pending. Less than an hour later, a message signed off by then-UC Vice President Kia McLeod '10 was sent from the official UC presidential e-mail address, stating that then-vice presidential candidate Eric N. Hysen '11 may have had access to the software that tracks the results of the UC elections after receiving the necessary passwords from former VP Randall S. Sarafa '09. McLeod denied sending the e-mail, but former Student Affairs Committee Chair Tamar Holoshitz ’10, who said she was involved in crafting the e-mail, said that McLeod did send the message: “She read it out loud four times,” Holoshitz said. “She clicked send.” (For a more comprehensive narrative detailing the events that unfolded, click here.) Finally, the UC certified John F. Bowman ’11 and Hysen as the Council’s President and Vice President, and the UC voted to censure McLeod for her role in the scandal. According to the censure resolution, McLeod "did knowingly abuse the power of her office" by collaborating with Holoshitz and former UC presidential candidate Benjamin P. Schwartz '10 to send the "unsubstantiated e-mail." By "officially distributing biased viewpoints as fact and therefore severely damaging the reputation of the [UC]...[McLeod] did violate ethical standards," the resolution stated.


Harvard first announced plans in February to slow construction on its much-touted Allston Science Complex due to financial pressures and an unprecedented drop in the endowment. And to top off the University's financial woes, Harvard’s multi-million dollar Allston development fund had been all but wiped out by the financial crisis as of early March, scuttling the hopes of some Harvard faculty and administrators that the money could be diverted toward their own strapped budgets. Allston residents feared Harvard would halt construction on the science complex—a core component of the University’s ambitious plans to build a new campus across the Charles River—originally due to be completed in 2011. Their fears were confirmed this December, when Harvard announced it will halt construction of the science complex indefinitely in early spring 2010 after the structure’s foundation is completed but before the building becomes ready for tenants.


Renowned Harvard Professor Henry Louis "Skip" Gates, Jr. was arrested by Cambridge police at his own home in July, prompting a national discussion about racial profiling and sparking a media frenzy that ensnared even President Barack Obama. Police were tipped off by a passerby who says she saw what appeared to be a break-in at the home. But the individuals she saw were actually Gates and his car driver forcing their way through the professor's jammed front door. Police Sgt. James Crowley, who arrived on the scene to investigate, said that Gates reacted belligerently and refused to identify himself when asked, but Gates said that he cooperated fully and that officers had targeted him because he is black. The alleged line "ya, I'll speak with your mama outside" has even made its public rounds. Even though the "disorderly conduct" charge was quickly dropped, the controversy continued to grow, fanned by Obama's nationally televised remarks that police had "acted stupidly" in arresting the professor. Obama later acknowledged that he had erred in his choice of words and brought Gates and Crowley to the White House to discuss the incident over beers.


In an effort to right itself after news of a precipitous drop in the University's endowment, Harvard officials offered early retirement packages to staff in February to push back the possibility of layoffs. The plan, available to staff over 55 who have worked at the University for over 10 years, was implemented in two phases, first at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Harvard Medical and Dental Schools and then at the remaining schools. Roughly 530 employees accepted early retirement incentive packages this spring, exceeding the University's expectations, but Harvard was forced to lay off 275 employees in June as well as offer reduced or changed work hours to approximately 40 others. Check out The Crimson's coverage of cuts in staffing at FAS, HMS, HLS, HBS, and the Harvard College Library.

FAS Dean Michael D. Smith announced in November that he will shrink the number of professors in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, ending a decade-long expansion in order to offset the school’s $110 million deficit. The news was followed by faculty retirement plans at FAS as well as four of the University's graduate schools.


For all its implications of a fresh start, the commencement of 2009 was unable to shed the atmosphere of financial doom and gloom that persisted from the previous year. In March, Harvard announced that the payout from the endowment would decline by 8 percent in dollar value for the fiscal year ending in June 2010, and projected another 8 percent fall from 2010 to 2011. The news came as a surprise, especially since it marked a significant departure from expectations in the previous fall for scenarios ranging from a flat payout to a 2 percent decline in dollar value. In September, Harvard announced that its invested endowment assets took a 27.3 percent hit in the past fiscal year, bringing the total value of the endowment as of June 30 down to $26 billion (since December of 2008, the University had been planning for a 30 percent drop-of in endowment value for the year ending June 2009).

But those were the numbers. The reality of the souring fiscal climate hit especially close to home when Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith unveiled in May a series of sweeping cost-cutting measures throughout FAS, which left few areas of student life untouched: fewer hot breakfast offerings, the closure of two campus cafes, the downgrading of three junior varsity teams to club status, and even reduced shuttle service. The cutbacks published on the FAS Web site amounted to $77 million in projected savings, or a third of the total $220 million projected annual deficit that FAS administrators said they hoped to close by July 2011. For all the professed savings, however, shocked students and faculty expressed their concerns with the pervasive culture of budget trimming: “This stinks of rhetoric—the whole Web site does," as one student eloquently stated at a subsequent town hall meeting. In September, Smith announced that FAS had cut about half of its $220 million projected annual deficit, heralding some good news to pierce what had been an unwieldy fiscal maelstrom for the earlier part of 2009.


On that fateful May afternoon, e-mail lists on campus went afire with anxious messages and questions regarding a rumored shooting on campus, coupled with cryptic text messages sent through the "Message Me" system. Cambridge resident Justin Cosby, 21, had been shot to death in the basement of Kirkland House in what prosecutors say was a failed “drug rip.” Cosby was found with $1,000 and one pound of marijuana near his body, and The Crimson reported that he may have been involved in drug sales to Harvard students. Three months later, police apprehended all three suspects they believe were involved in the shooting. Jabrai J. Copney, 20, was the first to be arrested and arraigned after he turned himself in to police in late May. He’s since been indicted on five charges including first-degree murder, and he pleaded not guilty to all the charges. Police say that Copney, an aspiring songwriter, pulled the trigger on Cosby. Blayn “Bliz” Jiggetts, 19, was arrested in Harlem in early June and was arraigned in Manhattan over the summer but refused to return to Massachusetts voluntarily to face charges, which also include first-degree murder. Jason Aquino, 23, was the final suspect to be arrested by police in connection to the shooting and faces the same charges as Jiggetts. In late July, he was arraigned in Manhattan and extradited to Cambridge, where he pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

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