Harvard Provost Harvey V. Fineberg has accepted the recommendation of a faculty task force to close the Harvard Institute for International Development (HIID) after integrating some of its programs and functions into Harvard’s Schools.
Fineberg made the announcement in letters delivered to HIID staff Jan. 21, saying Harvard President Neil L. Rudenstine and the members of the Harvard Corporation concurred with his decision. “The main purpose is to integrate these valuable international development activities more closely with teaching and research at Harvard,” wrote Fineberg. “For the remainder of this academic year, all current HIID projects will continue to operate under their existing management structure,” wrote Fineberg. “Beginning immediately, we will work with the Deans and faculty members of the several Schools and with the leadership and staff of HIID to effect a successful transition.” Fineberg did not give a specific timetable for the transition to be completed but said he hoped that specific program determinations could be made as expeditiously as possible. The University has guaranteed no loss of regular pay to HIID personnel through the end of the academic year June 30. “I do not underestimate the difficulty of this transition, either institutionally or individually,” wrote Fineberg. “I am convinced that the cost of near-term disruption will be more than offset by a sounder, long-term academic foundation for the field of development studies at Harvard. Our goal must be not only to help meet today’s development challenges, but to establish the intellectual foundation for better solutions in the future, and to educate a new generation of leaders in the field.” “(We) are working very hard to ensure as smooth a transition as possible. I can tell you that discussions with the relevant Schools are proceeding, that the Deans have indicated their respect for and interest in the work that you do, and that we will keep you informed every step of the way.” “You have my pledge that we will do our best to minimize uncertainty, communicate with you openly and regularly, and expedite decisions that affect your work, to the extent possible. Thank you for your patience during this stressful period,” wrote Fineberg. HIID provides policy advice, technical assistance, training and implementation services, and applied research and teaching on issues of international development. It currently has 41 active projects in 11 countries, studying areas that include the environment, macroeconomics, public finance, health, education and social development. HIID was created as a multi-disciplinary center for coordinating development assistance, training and research on Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe and Latin America. Recent work has included projects to promote environmental policy reforms in Central and Eastern Europe, to strengthen non-governmental organizations in El Salvador to support educational reform, and to contribute to sustainable economic growth in the Philippines. Development advisory services have been part of Harvard under various names and auspices since 1954. HIID has managed hundreds of projects worldwide since its inception in 1974. It currently has 159 employees overseas and at the University. Another 25 persons hold joint appointments within Harvard. The task force was convened by Fineberg last July after postponing a search for a new HIID director when Jeffrey Sachs left HIID to direct the Kennedy School’s Center for International Development. The task force’s charge was to “consider the future role of HIID and its relationship to other parts of the university.” It was chaired by Dennis F. Thompson, Associate Provost, and included former HIID director Dwight H. Perkins, Whitehead Center for International Affairs director Jorge I. Dominguez, and Program on Technology and Economic Policy director Dale W. Jorgenson. In a letter which he read from during a meeting with HIID staff Jan. 4, Thompson said: “Notwithstanding the value of the contributions that HIID has made, the scale of the Institute’s activities relative to other pursuits of the University seemed to us disproportionate, and insufficiently integrated into the University’s core functions of teaching and research.” In recent years the annual budget of the Institute has reached nearly $40 million, larger than that of four schools at Harvard (Dental, Design, Divinity and Education). Thompson said that the Task Force concluded that HIID’s activities “should be significantly reduced in size and more closely linked to the University’s educational mission.” “If the kind of work that HIID has done so well in the past is more closely integrated into the core of the University in the future,” Thompson said, “we believe that Harvard’s capacity to contribute to the study and practice of international development will continue to be strong and in the long run will be more secure.” The 58-page report noted that an ongoing government investigation into one HIID program based in Russia was not the reason for the task force’s recommendation. “Even when the management is as strong as it has been, the risks are substantial simply because the number of projects and their geographical scope are so great,” the report noted. “The difficulties with the Russian project, including the U.S. Government’s cancellation of funding and the initiation of an investigation, are anomalous in the history of HIID, and in themselves did not play a significant part in our deliberations. But they do highlight the unforeseeable risks inherent in a worldwide enterprise such as HIID, however well managed.” Most of the current HIID staff met with Thompson, Perkins and interim HIID director Richard Pagett in two “town meetings” the first week of January in which they were informed of the committee’s recommendation, received copies of the report, and commented on the report’s content. Follow-up staff meetings began last Friday and will be scheduled in the coming months as transition details develop. The report’s full text plus letters from Fineberg and Thompson are available at www.provost.harvard.edu.