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The Recession Is So Bad Even Harvard Has to Innovate

The economy is so bad that even Harvard is having to cut costs these days. The Wall Street Journal reports that, after the recession lowered the university’s endowment by nearly $5 billion, it has been putting a number of projects on hold to save cash.

At first, the cuts were skin-deep ones, limited to postponing construction projects and laying off non-faculty staff. Now the cuts are nearing the bone, including aid programs and even Harvard’s impressive library system:

Harvard is spending again in some areas, and financial aid to students has risen substantially since 2008. But a new awareness has taken root that resources are not as bountiful as they once were. “Limitations have become much more real,” said Harvard Provost Alan Garber.

The university is restructuring and consolidating its library system and has told faculty that subscriptions to academic journals, some costing as much as $40,000 a year, are “financially untenable.”

Harvard’s approach to academic journals is particularly interesting. The cost of scholarly journals, as Via Meadia has noted before, is really out of control—so bad that even the stewards of America’s largest private university endowment are finally noticing. In an attempt to break expensive journals’ stranglehold on the library budget, Harvard is trying a new approach:

The university is finding it “increasingly painful” to manage academic-journal subscriptions, which annually cost it about $3.75 million, Mr. Garber said.

In a move watched throughout academia, Harvard in April urged its faculty members to publish in open-access journals. “Move the prestige to open access,” a memo said.

This is a constructive step. If Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and other prestigious universities take the lead in reforming wasteful academic practices of all kinds, it will make it easier for the rest of the nation’s universities, where budget pressures are often even greater, to follow suit, helping put U.S. higher education on a more sustainable footing across the board.

Adaptability is America’s key strength and in this tumultuous century our ability to innovate in the face of change is a bigger advantage than ever. It’s good to see that Harvard hasn’t forgotten what this is about.

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  • Anthony

    “But a new awareness has taken root that resources are not as bountiful as they once were. Limitations have become more real….” And not just at Harvard post 2008; innovation and lifetime learning and growth definitely keys facilitating adaption in changing world.

  • C. Philips

    Harvard won’t have felt enough budget pressure until it fires everybody in its “diversity” bureaucracy.

  • Walter Sobchak

    Next thing you know they will take horse meat off the faculty club menu.

  • Mick The Reactionary


    “Adaptability is America’s key strength and in this tumultuous century our ability to innovate in the face of change is a bigger advantage than ever. It’s good to see that Harvard hasn’t forgotten what this is about.”

    You are daydreaming Mr Mead.

    Harvard as fanatically multi-cultural anti-traditional America place as it has always been.

    So they will cut couple bucks from library budget. Big deal.

    But massive Race/Sex/Gay/Womyn departments, full of race hustlers and America haters are lavishly funded and preserved.

    Here they are in full view:

    I will wait for Dr Mead to let us know when the first race/diversity hustler will be let go.

    I’m not holding my breath.

  • James C Brown

    interestingly about libraries – I think the economic downturn will accentuate the trend to digital/virtual books via cloud computing technology. (WSJ emphasizes point on having access to books, not having them in shelves). And I think this will have an impact on campus architecture. The enormous structures, like the U.of Chicago’s Mansueto library (which cost $80 million), may very well become dinosaurs in the face of more fluid & cheaper technology. That being said, there’s no finer place to sit and read a book than a fine cozy corner of a charming library.

  • dearieme

    A decade ago my academic department saved money by laying hands on the university’s master list of which libraries took which journals, and saved a lot by cancelling almost all our journals that were already taken by other departments. The art was to strike first.

  • Eurydice

    Huh, what’s the opposite of “breaking news”? The restructuring of the Harvard library system has been going on for 4 years now.

  • gringojay

    Free financing tip for Harvard = diversify your portfolio & rebalance the hand you hold.
    (a) Lay off the Okie 31/32nds part of Elizabeth Warren & reinvest that salary on Wall Street as she saves capitalism.
    (b) Keep the high cheek boned 1/32nd Cherokee part on the Harvard books for soliciting wampum from her intellectual spawn the Occupy Wall Streeters.

  • Virginia Postrel

    Princeton’s policy on open access journals:

    From the release linked above:
    The policy, approved by the faculty at their first meeting of the academic year, Sept. 19 [2011], states that faculty members grant The Trustees of Princeton University a “nonexclusive, irrevocable, worldwide license to exercise any and all copyrights in his or her scholarly articles published in any medium, whether now known or later invented, provided the articles are not sold by the University for a profit, and to authorize others to do the same.”

    The new policy protects faculty members from giving away all of their publication rights when they publish refereed and conference articles in a journal. Access to many journals is restricted by subscription, institutional or organizational membership, or other factors.

  • ez

    After seeing the title, I came here looking for the Rodney Dangerfield jokes.

    Well when you thourgh money at something and in the huge amounts we have at higher education you get higher costs and no real need to modernize or change for that matter.

  • teapartydoc

    I guess that Blue Model isn’t working out too well for Harvard, either. We were told they had good governance. Isn’t that what it’s all about? Do you think our government will be able to cut back when the time (now) comes?

  • Jim.

    Locking academic articles behind a paywall is a major problem to people trying to build up new technology that involves several different disciplines, particularly when they’re startup outfits that have to watch every penny. $30 for a journal article that may or may not have the information you want in it? No thanks.

    Libraries and librarians can be very helpful, though — libraries keep massive reference books on esoteric subjects on-hand, and skilled reference librarians familiar with a subject are FAR more useful than Google.

    Think about it — if you’re doing something new, if you’re looking for knowledge that hasn’t been knitted together yet, what use is a search engine that relies on existing connections and “most-popular” distractions?

    Google is good for the mass market, but lousy for indexing human knowledge.

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