Last week, Harvard University administrators rolled out further changes to the health insurance plans for non-union employees that were first revised last year. Rising healthcare costs motivated the initial decision, which allocated a greater part of the financial burden towards deductibles and coinsurance. At the time, professors in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences expressed their disagreement vehemently, passing a unanimous motion condemning the policy change for its unfairness to non-unionized Harvard staff. The University has now reversed course and reintroduced a healthcare plan that does not include deductibles.
There is little doubt that the administration’s decision to change their position in response to strong faculty opposition was the right choice; nevertheless, this is one troubling episode in a larger trend of University decisions that have been made without first informing or consulting the affected parties.
The administration’s responsiveness to faculty opposition should be lauded. Professors are the lifeblood of the College. Influential ones stay for decades and can play a strong role in shaping this institution and what students learn here. The opinion of the faculty matters, and when its members feel strongly enough to pass a unanimous resolution, the administration must take note.
That's why we are glad to see the University respond in a substantive way to last spring's criticism. But perhaps more important, we are troubled by the overarching trend we have seen from the administration in its decision-making process. Within the last year, Harvard has made several important policy decisions without seeking input from students or faculty. These decisions have all led to lengthy disputes, messy implementation, and ultimately backtracking by the administration as Harvard affiliates pushed back on policies that were created without regard for the opinions of those affected by the changes.
The University’s decision to close Stillman Infirmary reported by The Crimson last November—made without consulting House masters or resident deans—sparked protests from students. An eventual compromise was reached, combining the original plan to reallocate University Health Services resources with the development of protocols for continuing after-hour care. The Stillman controversy came in the heat of another debacle, this one—like the health plan debate—concerning a Harvard faculty: Law School professors had objected strongly to the University’s new sexual assault policy, announced in the summer of 2014. Though a large part of the criticism focused on problems with the policy itself, the professors also balked at the lack of faculty consultation in creating the policy. Eventually, the Law School developed its own policy, separate from the procedures used by the rest of the University.
These messy situations are mostly preventable. In each case, requesting input from Harvard students and faculty before implementing policy changes would have smoothed the process and reduced strife. Going forward, we hope that the administration will place greater importance on the opinions of the relevant parties in important policy decisions: The avoidance of protracted fights is beneficial to all and would be conducive to crafting better decisions. The administration must learn to listen more—to its students and to its faculties—before making decisions.