Opportunity for Forst's Successor
Without a doubt, Forst's resignation as Executive Vice President has put Harvard in a tight spot. Forst left after nine months as Executive VP, a position created in 2008. Forst was the first to hold this position and was able to decide for himself what many of his responsibilities were, according to statements he made during our meeting with him two weeks ago. For this reason the job title does not have definite responsiblities, and so it is hard to tell exactly how Harvard will be affected. However, we do know that tasks usually given to Harvard's president were delegated to Ed Forst, and that when it came to Harvard's budget, Forst was counted on to explain what decisions were being made and why. So we do know that a prominent authority on Harvard's budget, if not the authority, is leaving during a budget crisis, with no known successor or administrator who will act as interim place-holder.
However, there is also an opportunity here. Harvard more than ever needs an Executive Vice President to act as budget czar. Besides being a trend in Obama's administration (Climate Czar, Cyberspace Czar, Housing Czar, Automobile Czar...), it's really the only way to get the needed reforms and cuts happening quickly. The opportunity lies in transparency. The new Executive VP will no doubt encounter a lot of suspicion and mistrust as he or she makes decisions that devalue certain departments. The only way to combat the notion that these decisions are not arbitrary, but rather the result of careful decision-making, is a clear and transparent strategy for budget cuts. That way faculty, students, and staff do not have to take issue with the person, but rather the strategy, and a much more productive conversation between the new Executive Vice-President and the rest of Harvard University can take place.