FAS Dean Outlines Priorities

Michael D. Smith, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), outlined his priorities for the academic year in his first forward-looking annual letter, published on October 9...

Michael D. Smith, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), outlined his priorities for the academic year in his first forward-looking annual letter, published on October 9. Among the highlights:

Fiscal concern. Smith cautioned about the possible effects of the current financial situation, increased public scrutiny of universities (resulting in "increased demands to quantify the benefits of programs, justify costs, and demonstrate compliance with state and federal regulations"), and cost pressures (for energy, food, and construction)—all at a time when FAS faces "a structural deficit in unrestricted income created primarily by building projects and faculty growth. This deficit, if not addressed, will limit our ability to undertake new initiatives, will hamper campus renewal, and will stifle educational innovation."

Administrative change. As in his message to faculty colleagues last spring, Smith emphasized what he now calls "an empowered academic leadership supported by better administrative structures and processes." New details include devolution of budgetary authority to academic deans (Harvard College, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the divisional deans within FAS) to seed new programs and speed faculty recruitment, and the bolstering of the administrative staff for each such dean. Smith also outlined a new FAS budget process and a process for vetting curricular needs and targets for future intellectual and programmatic growth—the aim being to coordinate priorities in an "annual budget that is clearly aligned with our academic programs and new initiatives." (In his remarks last spring, Smith made it clear that he intends to "pause" from further faculty growth this year, in order to consolidate recent additions, to come to terms with the resulting pressures on the FAS budget, and, likely, to align future hiring with academic plans which seem certain to place greater emphasis on expertise in the sciences, where FAS has made enormous investments in new facilities.)

Campaign planning. Longer term, Smith wrote, these annual processes will also underpin decisions about FAS goals for a University capital campaign, whenever that is launched. His initial goals include funding the recent increases in undergraduate financial aid; expanding the ranks of, and funding for, graduate students, commensurate with the recent growth in the size of the faculty; and funding improvements in undergraduate education—ranging from the new general-education curriculum and integration of classroom work with enhanced international and laboratory experiences, to "renewal" of the Houses (which is shaping up to be huge, expensive construction project).

Smith also mentioned FAS participation in Allston planning, looking toward a future where "FAS remains one campus—that campus just has a beautiful river running through it," and the challenges of switching to the new academic calendar, less than a year from now. He also outlined faculty-led reviews of the non-ladder faculty (those outside the tenure track), hiring practices, and FAS's own rules of procedure.

Once two more appointments are made—of a new dean for the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and of a new special adviser on faculty development and diversity—Smith's academic leadership team will be complete. With them, and colleagues, he looks forward to joint efforts to "improve academic planning, right our finances, prepare for a capital campaign, and empower our Academic Deans," thus providing "a solid foundation for the exciting and important work that each of us came to Harvard to pursue."

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