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FAS Deficit On the Road Toward Recovery

By Noah S. Rayman and Elyssa A. L. Spitzer, Crimson Staff Writers

On the road toward recovery, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences has pared down its once-looming deficit to about $50 million, FAS Dean Michael D. Smith said yesterday.

Setting a positive tone at the last Faculty meeting of the year, Smith announced that the budget deficit now stands between $50 to $55 million—a roughly $30 million reduction in the deficit since February.

Smith said that he expects to further trim the deficit down to $35 million before June 30, when next year’s budgets must be finalized across FAS. He added that he hopes to present this anticipated figure to the Harvard Corporation—the University’s highest governing body—by July 1.

In an interview with The Crimson after the meeting, Smith said that FAS achieved its recent reduction of about $30 million with the help of restricted funds.

The University has been able to delve into underwater funds—accounts with spending restrictions that have fallen below their original amounts—through a recent lift on a Mass. policy that prohibits institutions from dipping into such funds.

In accordance with the dean’s “first-dollar principle,” the school has redoubled its efforts to spend these restricted funds on core expenditures, before spending money that can be allocated more freely.

Smith told the Faculty that he hopes to balance FAS’ budget by the fiscal year that ends in 2012. Further cuts and the FAS reserves will cover the gap in the meantime, he added.

The optimistic depiction of FAS’ current budgetary status at yesterday’s meeting comes after nearly $160 million in reductions to the deficit, which had stood at an imposing $220 million in the fall of 2008.

“So it has been 18 months since I stood in front of you and talked about the global ramifications of the global crisis” on FAS, Smith said. “It is hard for me to express how proud I am of our entire community to push us forward in this difficult time.”

But Smith said that the school faces financial hurdles ahead, in the form of a greater demand on its financial aid program, a slightly larger incoming class at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and building plans that have been put on hold in light of the bleak fiscal climate.

“We must continue these smart sustainable changes that have brought us this far,” he said.

THE FUTURE OF EXAMS

At yesterday’s meeting, the Faculty passed the proposal to make three-hour examinations at the end of the semester opt-in rather than opt-out for course leaders. Currently, the Office of the Registrar’s default assumption is that all professors will give exams at the close of a course, unless a professor specifically petitions the Registrar to do otherwise, according to Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris, who spearheaded the proposal.

But in the past academic year, only a quarter of all courses offered by the College gave full-length exams, reflecting a recent trend away from that style of examination.

Harris said that the new policy, which will no longer make exams the default form of final assessment in courses, is not an endorsement of the recent move away from offering three-hour exams. Rather, the changes are motivated by the desire to streamline the process of devising the exam schedule, he said.

To further simplify the scheduling process, Harris said that the Registrar intends to publish each semester’s exam schedule earlier than usual.

But some professors expressed concern at yesterday’s meeting that the trend toward fewer exams on campus may lead to alternate forms of assessment that are less effective at differentiating academic performance among students.

“I’m going to vote for it because it seems reasonable and saves a lot of bureaucracy,” English Department Chair James T. Engell ’73 said. “But I want my fellow colleagues...to realize what the historical trend in the college is—it is to examine less and less and less and less.”

—Staff writer Noah S. Rayman can be reached at nrayman@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Elyssa A.L. Spitzer can be reached at spitzer@fas.harvard.edu.

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