By Alexi White, Opinions Editor, MPP ‘13
Harvard Kennedy School’s 2012-13 budget is due to the University on March 2, and Associate Dean for Finance, Lara Metcalf, and her team at the Office of Financial Services have been working nights and weekends to ensure the accuracy of every last line. Much of January has been spent poring over budget submissions, checking for errors, and compiling school-wide data.
Next, Metcalf and Executive Dean John Haigh will meet with every research center and department to discuss how its individual budget relates to the School’s strategic goals.
While these consultations continue, some students are wondering why there is no outlet for student feedback on the budget and where their tuition dollars—representing one quarter of all HKS income—are going.
Haigh and Metcalf rejected the Citizen’s requests for details of the draft budget and of previous years’ expenses, citing “Harvard policy” and a concern that complex financial information could be misinterpreted without the proper context. Haigh also said that because Harvard has publicly-traded debt, selectively releasing budget material risks disclosing inside information about Harvard’s future financial position (this does not however, apply to releasing details of previous years’ expenses). The administration did release details of the School’s income sources.
KSSG President Sherry Hakimi said the administration should be more transparent with its finances. The KSSG’s finance committee will be releasing a report detailing exactly where it spent student dollars last year, and Hakimi hopes the administration will do the same.
“Students should be able to see for themselves what the priorities of this school are,” said Hakimi. “I think increased transparency will ultimately improve the performance of the School. Any strong non-profit institution would do well to have robust transparency measures.”
Mike Conway, MPP1, was surprised to learn he would not be given access to financial information, should he ask for it.
“I’m paying a lot of money to be here; I just assumed we would be allowed to know exactly where that money is going.” said Conway. “Transparency builds trust. If [the administration] wants us to feel like we’re a valued part of this community, they should work to build that trust.”
According to Haigh, the administration’s priorities for fiscal year 2013 come directly from the strategic plan. This means increases in financial aid, which has already more than doubled since 2004. It also includes investments in improved pedagogy and curriculum, funding for research, and enhancements to physical space.
Because a high percentage of endowment returns, philanthropic donations, and research funding—which together form a majority of the School’s income—is restricted to specific purposes, there is often little room to fund strategic priorities.
“Unfortunately, a dollar here is not a dollar we can spend anywhere,” said Haigh. “It often has restrictions on how we can spend it. We’re pushing where we have discretion.”
For their part, the fifteen research centers are each responsible for preparing their own budgets, all of which were submitted to the Office of Financial Services in December. The centers do not receive any tuition dollars, and the their grants, gifts and endowment revenue all come with restrictions.
“We have to make sure money is going where its been directed to,” said Ash Center Director of Financial Management and Planning Maureen Griffin. “I have to think about budgeting at the fund level. How is this program going to look this year and the next year, and budget within that fund.”
Although there have been no formal consultations with students as part of the budget process, Metcalf said that surveys, meetings, and other avenues for student input also help inform the School’s priorities, as was the case with the increase in financial aid and the creation of the new student lounge.
Haigh added that he regularly solicits feedback from the KSSG. “I go to the KSSG every year, discuss income, expenses, and priorities, and they give me their perspectives,” he said. “I’ve always told them I’m happy to come talk to KSSG if they want to have a conversation.”
Hakimi she would ask Haigh to organize a town hall event so that all students have the opportunity to see the administration’s presentation and provide feedback on the budget.