Faculty members confronted Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith yesterday with a barrage of questions about recently implemented budgeting measures that will grant him more authority than ever before in determining where FAS centers direct their funds.
Smith responded to faculty members’ concerns by saying that their angst was the result of miscommunication about the policy.
The new budgeting strategy, known as the “first-dollar principle,” requires that departments and centers spend their restricted funds according to thus far unspecified FAS “core principles.” Since area study centers—such as the Center for European Studies—are traditionally autonomous units that depend largely on restricted endowments and donations, center administrators were concerned about losing control of their spending priorities.
“The governance of the centers has always been in the hands of the faculty associated with them in partnership with FAS,” said Susan J. Pharr, director of Harvard’s Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies. According to Pharr, Smith had reassured center leaders at a meeting on Friday that he would refrain from taking full control of their budgets.
“But let’s be clear, under the new budget paradigm, the dean claims the right to do so,” she said.
David G. Blackbourn, the director of the CES, rose to support Pharr’s opening statement.
“What, sir, it seems you are asking now is to take control, and this raises serious questions of what a center director is trying to do,” Blackbourn said to Smith.
Blackbourn also emphasized his concerns that donors—on whom centers rely heavily—might be unwilling to contribute if they believe their funds will be used for FAS priorities rather than those of the particular center.
Responding to each of the five center-affiliated professors who voiced concerns, Smith confirmed that the “first-dollar principle” will not enable FAS administrators to use center restricted funds outside the precepts laid out by the donor.
Smith said that “core principles” for spending—a term used in a budgeting letter sent out to department and center administrators clarifying the new policy—would be determined in conjunction with center administrators.
“I have no idea what that priorities are of your center until you tell me,” he said.
University President Drew G. Faust supported Smith in his defense of the new FAS policy, asking centers to participate in what she said was a new phase of the school’s response to the budget crisis that has left FAS with an $80 million deficit—down from $220 last academic year.
“I would hope that no unit would want to be immune to that kind of questioning and priority setting,” Faust said.
But some professors proposed that Smith rewrite the budgeting letter and hold a town hall-style meeting for concerned members of the community.
At yesterday’s meeting, the Faculty unanimously approved the integration of global health policy into the current secondary field in health policy.
Read more in NewsLowell to Occupy Floor of DeWolfe