Arts and Sciences Status Report

The dean’s annual message touches on budget, faculty searches, pedagogy, and more.

At the first Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) meeting of the academic year, on October 4, Dean Michael D. Smith and several of his colleagues reviewed their annual report on 2010-2011, just published. Smith highlighted a reduction in FAS’s “core” budget deficit, collectively comprising about three-quarters of FAS operations (covering the College, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the faculty; excluding the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the library, the museums, athletics, etc.) to $16.2 million, and a trajectory leading toward fiscal balance by the end of the current year, next June.

He directed the faculty’s attention to several highlights, from his letter and elsewhere:

  • Progress on undergraduate House renewal, starting with the renovation of Old Quincy beginning this summer as a test pilot; a faculty committee led by Balkanski professor of physics and applied physics Eric Mazur is exploring how best to configure a space there into a model twenty-first-century classroom, as a blueprint for future academic renovations.
  • The Bok Center: a search is about to begin to find a faculty director for this locus of work that aims to improve teaching and learning, and to advance pedagogy. (Its operations have been focused principally on remedial work with teachers and on helping new faculty members and teaching fellows acquire basic classroom skills, but a more ambitious program is envisioned.)
  • A museum executive board will oversee all of FAS’s museums of science and culture, in an effort to effect efficiencies, while promoting the research, teaching, and public-outreach missions. It will be directed by James J. McCarthy, Agassiz professor of biological oceanography. Separately, some Museum of Comparative Zoology collections are moving to below-grade, environmentally controlled collection-management areas in the new Northwest Laboratory; the spaces released will be renovated for academic use.
  • The Arts@29 (Garden Street) space, created last year, is now enabling student, faculty, and visiting-artist collaborations on creative- and performing-arts projects.

Smith attributed the faculty’s budgetary progress (reducing a projected $35-million core deficit) to factors ranging from energy conservation and better building management ($7.2 million in fiscal 2011 savings) and more efficient purchasing of goods and services, to control of staffing (level at 2,900 positions for the past two years), scrubbing of endowment funds to be sure they are used properly and most effectively, and strong philanthropic support from alumni. The financial section of the report, by Leslie Kirwan, dean for finance and administration, appears here. Following two fiscal years of reductions in the endowment distribution, it indicates, FAS now receives 49 percent of its revenues from that source—down from the peak of 54 percent in fiscal 2009, budgeted before the financial crisis hit and sharply reduced the value of the endowment.

Smith outlined, and Kirwan’s report details, selective investments, including prefunding (from the operating budget) $16 million of planned capital expenditures in the current fiscal year, thereby avoiding future debt-service costs. FAS advanced $5 million toward a high-performance academic computing center in western Massachusetts (the University invested a similar amount), and is preparing for major renovation of Paine Hall, the music department’s central performance venue.

Looking ahead, Smith said, in light of the endowment’s strong performance in fiscal 2011, FAS could expect higher distributions for fiscal 2013, beginning next July 1. But he warned that the Corporation’s smoothing formula (blending the results of endowment investment performance from several prior years to determine future distributions) would have the effect of reining in such increases in the future if the rocky performance of the financial markets in recent months persisted, eroding those investment gains.

The College

Dean Evelynn M. Hammonds, summarizing her report on the College, touched on the strong applications and admissions data from the prior year, and described the General Education curriculum as a “hotbed of pedagogical innovation.” Among many other subjects she addressed, Hammonds pointed to the proliferation of summer-research experiences on campus, with PRISE (pairing students with laboratory scientists) hosting 123 students last summer, and the new BLISS (for social sciences) and PRIMO (marketing and organizational research affiliated with Business School faculty members) providing opportunities for 12 and 14 undergraduates, respectively.

Turning to student life, Hammonds touched on the hiring of a director to coordinate resources for bisexual, gay, lesbian, transgender, and questioning (BGLTQ) students; and noted, in the arts, a significant transition with the appointment of new directors for dance, the Holden Choirs, and the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra.

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Dean Allan M. Brandt both outlined highlights of his report and sketched GSAS priorities for the audience. GSAS welcomed 620 new doctoral students this year—the second year of increases—from a record 12,000-plus applicants. More than 35 percent of those enrolling do not hold a U.S. passport, he said—a vivid demonstration of Harvard's international reach and diversity, with 50 countries represented in the entering doctoral class. On a day when two GSAS graduates (and one College alumnus) shared the Nobel Prize for physics, he noted, the faculty had the opportunity and responsibility of working with remarkably talented students who would be the Nobel laureates of the future. But he also cited concerns:

  • Not all students are proficient in English; although GSAS offers language training, he will raise with the faculty the issue of making English proficiency mandatory.
  • GSAS made a concerted effort to increase enrollment by students from underrepresented American communities; the initial result—admitting a record number of applicants, and enrolling a much higher proportion of those admitted—was encouraging. But Brandt said he is exploring whether Harvard ought to offer post-baccalaureate programs (like those offered for students preparing for law or medical school) to help college graduates with gaps in their education become ready to pursue graduate work in the arts and sciences, at Harvard or elsewhere.

As a success, he cited the twentieth anniversary of Dudley House, late this month: an effective social and networking venue that has helped graduate students make connections beyond their departments or their principal academic mentors. Nonetheless, he underscored how demanding graduate study is, and stressed the pervasiveness of mental-health issues that can undercut student success—a challenge he feels is insufficiently understood and not easily resolved for an internationally and culturally diverse student body.

Looking ahead, Brandt said he hopes to explore deeper interactions between GSAS and undergraduates. The Graduate Seminars in General Education—for-credit classes in which faculty members and graduate students jointly devise new undergraduate courses—have worked well, as a pilot. He also emphasized the importance of both disciplinary and interdisciplinary training for graduate students, whose fields are wider and more complex than ever. Secondary fields, he noted, are one possible avenue for training them better. Among those recently launched, he cited a science, technology, and society program; computational science; critical media practice (to enable students to pursue digital projects and communication); and a mind, brain, and behavior secondary field.

Among his longer-range concerns and interests, Brandt cited two:

  • Placing students in successful positions, in or beyond the academy; and
  • Evaluating the future of the dissertation in a new era, particularly in light of university presses’ declining interest in publishing monographs.


Faculty Sizes and Searches

In a slide presentation, Dean Nina Zipser, of the office of faculty affairs, graphically illustrated the faculty’s recent demographic history: more or less flat for many years, at fewer than 600 members; rising rapidly from 586 members in 1999 to 719 in 2008; and then leveling off again to a current census of 722. The number of searches was reduced in 2008, to 24, initially to consolidate the gains the faculty had made and then to respond to the financial crisis; in the years since, she said, the number of searches conducted annually has averaged in the 30s—and 43 are planned this year. (The figures for searches are those within the arts and sciences divisions; School of Engineering and Applied Sciences searches are counted separately, and thus increase FAS's total.)

Because a tenure track was established and assistant and associate professors were promoted to tenure in significant numbers, the number of such tenure-track faculty members has now declined appreciably (from 208 in 2008 to 173 currently). Recent searches, Zipser reported, had resulted in offers to and acceptances by women and minority candidates roughly in line with the faculty’s current composition.

Finally, she detailed the effects of the faculty’s phased-in incentive-retirement plan offered to eligible members. From 2008 through 2011, she reported, 27 faculty members had retired. For the next four years, 42 have indicated their intention to retire, a more than 50 percent increase. That not only helps departments and the FAS administration plan future recruiting efforts, but also creates some sense of how the faculty could renew its ranks, in an environment of relatively steady hiring, in the years ahead.

(For the reports of the divisional deans and other FAS units, see the annual report website.)

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