New FAS Policy Reduces Deficits

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences is nearing the end of a redesigned budgeting process used to help reduce a deficit that currently stands at $80 million.

Friday was the tentative deadline for departments to communicate funding requests to the FAS administration, according to a budget guidance letter that Leslie A. Kirwan ’79, the FAS dean of administration and finance, sent to unit administrators in early February.

FAS Dean Michael D. Smith will determine unrestricted allocations by May 15, and the budget for the coming academic year is expected to be finalized by the end of May.

This year, FAS administrators have taken a more active role in determining each unit’s budget, waiting until the middle of May to provide departments with their budget allocations.

According to the FAS administration’s “first-dollar principle,” units are being asked to spend all restricted funds—such as endowments and grants associated with spending guidelines—before reaching out to the central FAS administration for additional unrestricted funds known as subventions.


“It would be easier to know exactly what we were doing and to be able to plan earlier, but I think this is the nature of the beast that we’re all struggling to tame,” History of Science Chair Anne Harrington ’82 said.

Facing a $220 million deficit last year, Smith asked departments and centers to trim 15 percent from their expected budgets—traditionally formulated in January or February—for the current academic year.

At the time, administrators scrambled to restructure their expenditures, cutting costs ranging from staff positions to cookies at departmental meetings.

Department administrators have said that FAS’s new approach requires more back and forth discourse with the FAS budgeting office.

Molecular and Cellular Biology Executive Director of Administration Susan H. Foster said that the administration has asked her department to justify all expenses, adding that this approach seemed appropriate.

Foster said that she considered her own budget for the next school year to be complete, since last year saw extensive budgetary changes, when MCB was forced to cut spending for core staff positions by 30 percent.

Smith said in an interview last month that the new budgeting approach has helped ensure “the stability moving forward.”

Given the volatile state of finances, Smith said determining subventions earlier in the process would have forced administrators to “guess” if cuts would still be necessary.

He said he will announce a reduced deficit figure in the coming months, though he acknowledged that there is still much progress to be made toward a balanced budget.

—Elyssa A. L. Spitzer contributed reporting to this story.

—Staff writer Noah S. Rayman can be reached at