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May 30, 2013 3:02 PM Harvard’s Flak Army

By Daniel Luzer

We’ve written before at the Monthly about the vast proliferation of administrative staff at American universities in the last 20 years.

Employment of academic administrators has increased 60 percent from 1993 to 2009, 10 times the growth rate for tenured faculty. As Benjamin Ginsberg wrote in this magazine two years ago, this development is very troublesome for academia because it vastly increases costs, and also he’s not really sure what all of these people do all day to “help” the university.

How bad is it? A telling example comes from this article in The Harvard Crimson by Nicholas Fandos and Samuel Weinstock about the school’s PR apparatus, Harvard Public Affairs and Communications (or HPAC):

Perched on the top floor of the Holyoke Center, the offices of Harvard Public Affairs and Communications are easy to miss. But from high above Harvard Square, the nearly 60-person team can see all that it speaks for: the Yard, much of Harvard’s Cambridge campus, its property in Allston, and even the three floors of the Boston Federal Reserve Building occupied by the Harvard Management Company.

Sixty people? What does this flak army do?

Under one roof, and with one general goal, HPAC’s employees are responsible for three main functions—advancing Harvard’s interests in government, communicating with the public through the outside media and various digital outlets, and publishing the Gazette, an online and print magazine of Harvard related stories written by its own staff. Harvard’s government and community relations unit splits its time and attention between Holyoke and anywhere off-campus that Harvard might have interests, from across the river in Allston to Washington, D.C., where staff members lobby lawmakers and several federal agencies on behalf of the University.

There’s nothing technically wrong with this. Obviously Harvard has good reason to “advance its interests.” As the article explains, however, most colleges of similar size employ only 20 or 30 people. In the last five years HPAC has more than doubled.

The institution’s communications department now appears to be about the same size as its physics department.

According to the article, communications staff are now extensively involved in all sorts of university doings, particularly with journalists. It didn’t used to work like that: “Harry R. Lewis ‘68, who was Dean of the College from 1995 to 2003, said that he almost never had a communications officer present before or during an interview.”

He would just, you know, communicate.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer

Comments

  • Pyewacket on May 30, 2013 8:11 PM:

    Note, too, that HPAC only speaks for the school as a whole. The various graduate schools - Harvard Medical, Dental, Law, Business, School of Government, School of Public Health, School of Education, Divinity - these all have their own PR departments of varying sizes.