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Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences Suspends Capital Projects and Faculty Searches After University-Wide Freezes

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences followed University-wide budgeting changes on Wednesday, placing hiring and capital projects on hold.
The Faculty of Arts and Sciences followed University-wide budgeting changes on Wednesday, placing hiring and capital projects on hold. By Steve S. Li
By James S. Bikales and Kevin R. Chen, Crimson Staff Writers

After Harvard officials announced University-wide hiring and salary freezes Monday, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences indefinitely placed faculty searches and capital projects on hold, FAS Dean Claudine Gay announced in a Wednesday email to faculty and staff.

Gay announced Friday that the FAS is unable to cover its budget for the 2020 fiscal year after netting $30 million in losses due to campus de-densification measures the University implemented in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

In her Wednesday email, Gay wrote that the pandemic has impacted FAS’s financials in many more ways than the direct costs of de-densification.

“The pandemic and the resulting economic downturn have disrupted Extension School programs, sponsored research funding, philanthropy, the endowment, and other important sources of support for our mission-driven activities, with no sign of a return to normalcy in the foreseeable future,” she wrote.

FAS will suspend all faculty searches except for a “small number” already near completion, Gay wrote. In late March, she suspended the FAS’s high-profile search for faculty specializing in ethnic studies due to the pandemic.

In addition to adhering to the University-wide freeze on salary increases, Gay announced FAS will suspend all bonus programs. She wrote that lecturers and preceptors will be exempt from the University’s policy and will receive a salary increase announced earlier this semester.

FAS will also ask its managers to keep vacant positions open and to “better leverage” existing staff, potentially requiring some staff to take on new tasks. Gay wrote she hopes these changes will allow FAS to avoid layoffs or reductions in compensation for its current employees.

“With this approach we hope to sustain, for as long as possible, employment and benefits for our current workforce,” she wrote.

She also asked managers to cut non-essential spending.

“We expect all units to make every effort to identify savings that can be achieved by delaying, reducing, or canceling activities and programs that are not mission-critical,” Gay wrote.

FAS last took such stringent belt-tightening measures in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. That December, it announced freezes on faculty searches and salary raises and asked departments to cut 10 to 15 percent of their budgets.

Gay also announced she has suspended all FAS capital projects, citing Boston and Cambridge ordinances. The cities each shut down construction projects in March to combat the virus.

“The many capital projects that were underway, planned, or envisioned in the FAS will be evaluated as to whether and when they will resume, based on priority level and funding source,” she wrote.

The University is reviewing all its other capital projects to determine which it should defer. Harvard already delayed the opening of its new Science and Engineering Complex in Allston to spring 2021. It was slated to open in fall 2020 after five years of construction.

In her announcement Wednesday, Gay reiterated principles she outlined in her Friday email that will guide her decision-making on budget cuts: prioritizing health and safety, protecting the FAS's “academic enterprise,” leveraging breadth and diversity, and preserving access and affordability.

Wednesday’s “immediate-term actions” are meant to allow more flexibility to support academic priorities as longer-term financial planning continues, Gay wrote.

“More than ever before, we will need to draw on our collective wisdom, strength, and creativity to navigate this new trajectory and maintain the commitment to excellence that distinguishes us as an institution,” Gay wrote. “I invite your engagement and your ideas in the work ahead. I will be looking to you for help. Often.”

—Staff writer James S. Bikales can be reached at james.bikales@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamepdx.

— Staff writer Kevin R. Chen can be reached at kevin.chen@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @kchenx.

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