In a euphemism-filled email, Harvard University President Drew Faust announced last week that previous cost-cutting efforts—including an early-retirement plan accepted by more than 500 staffers—had been insufficient, and the university would eliminate 275 positions across most of its 10 schools.
Heads began rolling that morning at the business and law schools, and in the coming days continued throughout the university. Anton Lipar, a 29-year-old immigrant from Slovakia, got the news last Wednesday, when he was called into a human resources meeting room and told that his position in the Slavic division of Widener Library had been eliminated. Lipar, who was married last October, must now reconsider his ambitions to buy a home and begin a family. "We had plans for the future because she had a good job, I had a good job," he said. "Now, everything is gone."
In a statement, Harvard spokesperson Kevin Galvin reiterated that employee compensation makes up about half the university's budget and that the university tried several other measures to reduce costs prior to the firing blitz. "Unfortunately, we are facing a projected 30-percent decline in our endowment," he added, "and those steps did not generate the savings we needed to achieve in order to avoid the reduction in force that was announced this week."
On Thursday, about 50 staff, faculty, students and community members gathered in Harvard Yard to protest the layoffs at a lunchtime rally attended by representatives from the Harvard Union of Clerical & Technical Workers; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; the Student Labor Action Movement; the Socialist Alternative; the Allston-Brighton Neighborhood Assembly, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
Sheila Rish, an image-cataloging assistant in the Fine Arts Library, said she was notified that she would not only lose her job, but because she lives in Harvard-affiliated housing, she will lose her home as well. "They said they intend to make sure that Harvard Real Estate is informed of [the layoff]," she told the crowd.
Afsaneh Najmabadi, a professor of women's and gender studies, said some faculty members had advocated for a reverse sliding scale of pay cuts because "people who make more than $250,000 in annual pay, they can afford a 5-, 10-, 15-percent cut ... but unfortunately, none of the suggestions were ever taken up."