Arts and Sciences: Better Budget, Burgeoning Ambitions

Dean Michael Smith's annual report to the faculty

Dean Michael D. Smith

Dean Michael D. Smith’s annual report for fiscal year 2012—previewed with Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) colleagues at their October 2 meeting and published two days later—declares victory and outlines a future campaign.

Stabilizing Finances

The retrospective victory note concerns the faculty’s finances: after projecting large deficits in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and a sharp decline in the value of the endowment, FAS, as planned, achieved a balanced budget in its “unrestricted Core operations”: the faculty, the Gradate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS), and the College. This "structural balance," as Smith writes, is "an important achievement...made possible by the faculty's ongoing fiscal discipline over the preceding three years."

According to the financial section of the report, the unrestricted-funds result for the Core operations was a tiny surplus. But unplanned activities—launching edX (the Harvard-MIT online education venture)  and beginning reconstruction of the Houses—resulted in a $9.7 million deficit on the same basis. For all FAS activities—including athletics, continuing education, the library and museums, Dumbarton Oaks, and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences—the unrestricted deficit was $34.9 million; the consolidated result, including all funds, was $20.5 million of red ink. (All financial data are presented on an FAS management-reporting basis, not in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles. FAS financial statements will be published in late October, following release of the annual University financial report.)

Looking ahead, Smith sends a cautious, rather than a celebratory, signal: "I would caution against the notion that the time for financial discipline is over," given modest endowment investment returns and the increased likelihood that "sponsored research, which saw gains that were a bright spot during the financial recovery, may decrease as federal funding for research declines, as many anticipate." According to the financial section, endowment distributions make up 48 percent of FAS's operating revenue, and sponsored support a further 18 percent.

Priorities: House Renewal, edX

Nonetheless, having largely slain the financial dragon, Smith looks toward the next campaign: the University’s forthcoming fundraising drive. Although the report says little about the campaign or FAS’s substantive goals, it suggests two priorities:

Smith emphasizes House renewal (as does Dean Evelynn Hammonds in the section of the report on Harvard College). In an October 2 presentation, Leslie Kirwan, dean for administration and finance, made clear what financing the multiyear project, forecast to cost at least $1 billion, will require; she cited endowment funds, philanthropy, FAS reserves, cash from operations, and long-term debt, both “incremental and nonincremental.” The latter has not been specified since the University became much more cautious about debt in the wake of the 2008 problems, when it had to borrow $2.5 billion. Kirwan's financial section of the annual report suggests how, in part, FAS will handle this financing:

To get ready for this project and other capital needs, as well as to manage the FAS's high debt load, we have looked for opportunities to pay for projects with equity and to pay down existing internal debt where possible. During FY 2011, $16 million of capital projects planned in the upcoming fiscal year were funded directly from FY 2011 operating funds, and $13 million was used to pay down internal debt, resulting in a reduction in the amount of FY 2012 income required for interest and principal payments on our long-term debt. 

Also consistent with the funding plan, in FY 2012 the FAS was authorized to decapitalize $144 million from the endowment, of which $101 million was utilized during the year to support a number of capital projects. In this way, we were able to avoid additional debt as well as pay down existing debt to create non-incremental debt capacity for future needs of the House Renewal program.

Thus, having incurred substantial debt during the previous decade, particularly to construct extensive new laboratory facilities, FAS, like the University, is debt-constrained; is devoting current operating funds to capital projects; and is also tapping into the endowment to defray some of those earlier debt-financed construction costs and new and pending ones. As a result, Kirwin's financial letter notes, FAS's long-term investments (chiefly, endowment funds) declined during the year.

There is also a section devoted to edX—an element in FAS’s plans to invest in teaching and apply technology to education, both in the classroom and online, for distance learners. It discloses that Harvard's representatives on the new nonprofit organization's board are Smith, Graduate School of Education dean Kathleen McCartney, provost Alan Garber, and executive vice president Katie Lapp.

The faculty director for HarvardX is Robert Lue, professor of the practice of molecular and cellular biology and director of life sciences education; he has overseen fundamental changes in introductory biology courses and other pedagogical innovations, and, as past dean of the Harvard Summer School, has been involved in pursuing online courses within the Division of Continuing Education. Lue is marshaling resources to assist interested faculty members from all disciplines as they explore how to create online course material, work with the edX programmers, and collaborate with postdoctoral fellows who will bring content expertise to online course creation.

Highlights from across FAS

The report has separate sections for the College and GSAS, principal academic divisions, and other units. Highlights include:

Ebbing humanities, rising sciences. During the past decade, the number of undergraduate arts and humanities concentrators peaked at 1,104 in 2003-2004, and has declined steadily, to 823 last year—down 25 percent. The social sciences are down, too—off 16 percent since peaking at 2,695 in 2005-2006. In contrast, the sciences have attracted 29 percent more undergraduates since a low point of 989 in 2002-2003, and concentrators in the rejuvenated School of Engineering and Applied Sciences have nearly doubled in number since 2004-2005, to last year’s 563. That reflects a rebound from depressed computer-sciences enrollment after the dot-com bust at the beginning of last decade, followed by renewed excitement about social media, and emerging fields such as bioengineering. 

The report notes the student enthusiasm for residential summer-research programs with faculty members, in the sciences (PRISE, the Program for Research in Science and Engineering; read an undergraduate's report on her experience); social sciences (BLISS, the Behavioral Laboratory in the Social Sciences), and business-related topics (PRIMO, the Program for Research in Markets and Organizations, co-sponsored with the Business School). There is no analogous arts and humanities program.

Arts and humanities dean Diana Sorensen describes efforts under way to "open new pathways into the humanities for Harvard undergraduates." She cites the development of "foundational courses" designed to introduce "central themes and approaches in the humanities," involving ways of looking, listening, and reading, and a possible new pilot concentration in the arts and humanities. Sorensen also points to the division's new website, another effort to enhance the appeal of these disciplines.

GSAS diversity. Continued emphasis on recruiting resulted in applications from 676 candidates from underrepresented minority groups (among 12,397 applications in total), and a 19 percent increase in offers of admission. Underrepresented minorities made up 7 percent of the entering class, the highest figure in GSAS history.

Alcohol policy. According to Dean Hammonds's report, the College has begun sponsoring alcohol-free weekend events to "encourage students to socialize responsibly." Rakesh Khurana, master of Cabot House, led a review of campus alcohol policy. Recommendations will come to the faculty at its next meeting.

On-line academics: the PDF Ph.D. As of March 2012, all dissertations have been submitted electronically, as PDFs, for degree completion, binding, and archiving.

An aging faculty. The section on faculty trends, by Nina Zipser, dean for faculty affairs, reveals that following more internal promotions to tenure and restraint on faculty growth since 2008-2009, the average age of the tenured faculty increased from 55 to 57 during the past decade. This shift occurred despite successful initiation of retirement incentives (retirements increased from an average of 6 annually to 15 last year), and the prior period of rapid expansion in the faculty ranks overall.

Sustainability. A section on sustainability reports that for buildings that existed in fiscal 2006, greenhouse-gas emissions declined by 27.6 percent through last year. Energy use declined by 21 percent, and water use by 31 percent. Calculated at current utility rates, those savings represent avoided utility costs of $6.6 million annually. For all FAS facilities, including new spaces, the reduction was 10 percent through the end of fiscal 2012.

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