Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Harvard Happenings

After I get done with teaching today, there's a lot going on around Harvard.

First, we will be having a reception to welcome our newly incoming Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Cherry Murray. I don't know much about her, unfortunately, but if anyone does and wants to send me e-mail with information, feel free. I admit, my major concern with a new Dean coming in is the question of how we're going to grow Computer Science -- and related fields, including Applied Math and Electrical Engineering -- at Harvard, particularly in the face of the financial crisis. I'd like to think it's clear we have the need, and I'd like to hear when we think we're going to have the means.

After that, this afternoon there will be a "town hall meeting" (as opposed to a faculty meeting) to discuss the dire financial situation at Harvard. Endowment funding is expected to drop by 8% next year, much more than originally expected. Staff layoffs are looking imminent -- perhaps some will be announced at this meeting. In short, the budget situation is grim. As an example that's both in some sense absurd and appropriate, next year for our regular Computer Science faculty lunch meeting, we'll have to brown bag it. As a perhaps more compelling example, the Teaching Assistant to student average ratio is going to have to go up substantially next year in computer science. (We've had an embarassingly luxurious TA-to-student ratio, so I believe that this change will only take us to something that most would consider normal, but it will still be a change for us.) The problem at a university is that so many costs are essentially fixed -- primarily staff costs -- that there's very little in the class of optional things that can be cut substantially. Until the economy turns around, I expect more grim news -- at town hall meetings or otherwise -- ahead.

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