April 14, 2020
Dear Members of the HLS Community,
I write to follow up on the email you received yesterday from Harvard President Larry Bacow, Provost Alan Garber, and Executive Vice President Katie Lapp about the ongoing impact of the global pandemic on the University community, operations, and finances.
Like our University leaders, I want to express my gratitude for the extraordinary resilience, courage, and spirit you, the members of our community, have shown as you have navigated unexpected hardships and taken on new responsibilities, at work, at school, and in many cases at home. In the course of a few weeks, our students have had to leave campus, dispersing around the globe and often dealing with challenging circumstances while also learning to take law school courses remotely and dealing with uncertainties about careers, the bar exam, and the professional journey ahead. Our staff have collectively worked long, and often stressful, hours to support our community transition to online work, teaching, and learning and to help our students and faculty through the disruptive transitions that this pandemic has required. And our faculty have put in enormous effort to learn, in a short time, an entirely new way to teach, advise, and mentor our students.
Our community’s work and spirit have been an inspiration as the harsh reality of this devastating global pandemic continues to unfold, claiming countless lives across the globe, subjecting almost our entire nation to stay-at-home orders, and disrupting the lives and livelihoods of so many in our community, the nation, and the world. Beyond its devastating human toll, COVID-19 has also dramatically impacted the global economy. Each week brings staggering news of increases in unemployment and impacts on businesses and institutions large and small. As President Bacow, Provost Garber, and Executive Vice President Lapp explained in their message yesterday, Harvard University has not been immune from that impact.
Until this year, the financial crisis of 2008-2009 was the largest financial challenge Harvard had faced in modern history. This global pandemic, which has caused unprecedented disruption and displacement, is expected to be even worse. As Harvard’s leaders have made clear, every revenue source we depend on – including the endowment and tuition, as well as philanthropy, executive and continuing education, and research support – will be under enormous pressure for the foreseeable future. There have also been, and we expect there will continue to be, significant new costs as we take necessary steps to support our students, staff, and faculty in this challenging new environment. To all of these known challenges, we must add the deep uncertainty wrought by a global health and economic crisis whose contours change by the day.
In the coming months, and possibly years, we will have to make some very difficult spending choices. The health and safety of our community will always be paramount in everything we do. In addition, the following priorities will guide HLS decision-making as we determine how best to allocate limited resources.
- Access and Affordability – As was the case with the 2008-2009 financial downturn, we will continue to make financial aid a top priority as we strive to promote broad accessibility of legal education.
- Academic Mission – We will continue to foster excellence and innovation in teaching, learning, and research.
- Our Workforce – We will strive to limit impacts on our workforce, who make it possible for us each and every day to fulfill our mission.
Within this framework, we will need to scrutinize all spending decisions, large and small, to ensure that they align with these priorities. And although there is much in this challenging time that we cannot remedy with financial decisions alone, like other deans across Harvard, I have asked the University to reduce my salary this coming year.
Going forward, in anticipation of reduced revenue, the University has given us concrete guidance about ways to reduce projected spending in the coming year. As the University’s message noted, there will be no salary increases for faculty or exempt staff this year. The University has also imposed a freeze on hiring new personnel.
I understand that these measures come at a particularly difficult time, when so many faculty and staff have gone to extraordinary lengths to help our community manage the many unprecedented challenges posed by this situation. And I am truly sorry that we will not be able this year to reward the outstanding level of performance that has been a hallmark of our workforce and especially seen this past month. None of this diminishes my gratitude for the important work you have done and continue to do.
While we have no way to fully assess at this moment the extent of the budget deficit we will need to fill, we expect to receive in the coming weeks updated guidance from the University that will help us plan for the budget that begins on July 1. There will no doubt continue to be many more questions than answers, as we all are forced to accept an unsettling level of financial uncertainty.
Though many hard challenges still lie ahead, I am grateful to be facing them with this strong and exceptional community. Your collective commitment to this School, to our mission of teaching and learning the law, and to one another is an inspiration, and I believe that, thanks to you, Harvard Law School will emerge stronger than ever.