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Universities Cutting Back On Faculty

By CityTownInfo.com Staff

June 19, 2009

The economic downturn has forced many institutions of higher learning to cut back significantly on faculty, and officials fear that academic quality will likely suffer as a result.

The Boston Globe reports that Harvard University will not be able to replenish its faculty when star professors retire or are lured to other universities. In particular, the university's music department will be losing the world's leading Bach scholar to retirement next year, the classics department will lose one of two specialists in ancient history, and a popular government professor will soon be moving to Duke University.

"Harvard's relative standing among the major universities will suffer," predicted Theda Skocpol, a government professor. "It already has in some fields, and it will continue to if we can't keep on moving."

The cutbacks are the result of a steep decline in Harvard's endowment, which the university relies upon to pay for its day-to-day needs. Valued at $36.9 billion a year ago, the endowment is expected to drop by at least 30 percent by the end of June to about $26 billion.

Some professors are confident that shrinking the budget will not affect Harvard's academic reputation. But others are concerned that the reduction in faculty will cut down on the number of courses students will be able to take, and class size will increase as well.

"People are concerned that faculty-student interaction will become even more rare because of the cuts," said Andrea Flores, president of the Harvard Undergraduate Council, who was quoted in the Globe. "There would be less academic mentoring."

Public universities are unfortunately not immune to faculty cutbacks. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln announced this week that it would eliminate 56 jobs in response to a $3.7 billion budget shortfall. UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman said that the layoffs are necessary in order for the institution to preserve undergraduate education and research.

"This has been an uncertain period," he wrote in a campus-wide e-mail. "I wish I could say that with these reductions we have completed our task but I am afraid that is not true. It seems reasonably certain that we will face additional cuts next year, although hopefully they will be modest."

In a related story, The Wall Street Journal reports that because of fewer job openings for faculty at colleges and universities, graduate students and new Ph.D.s are now looking for employment opportunities in Asia and the Middle East. Officials at the American University in Iraq-Sulaimani, for example, received 400-500 applications this year from the United States--more than double what was received last year.

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