By Harvard standards, these are hard times. Not Dickensian hard times, perhaps, but with the value of its endowment down by almost 30 percent, the world's richest university is learning to live with less.
The Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard's largest division, has cut about $75 million from its budget in recent months and is planning more. With the cuts extending beyond hiring and salary freezes to measures that affect what students eat, where they study and other parts of their daily routine, the euphoria of fall in Harvard Yard is dampened. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences anticipates a deficit of $130 million over the next two years and is awaiting recommendations from groups of faculty members and students who have quietly been weighing the options.
"Everyone is worried," said George Hayward, a junior who lives on a part of campus, the Quad, that lost its library to the cuts. "It could be anything next; nobody really knows what's going to happen."
Harvard is not the only elite school where student life is more austere this fall: Princeton has closed some computer labs and two of its dining halls on weekends. At Stanford University, the annual Mausoleum Party, a Halloween gathering at the Stanford family burial site, lost $14,000 in funding because of budget cuts and might be canceled.
But many here assumed student life at Harvard, more than any other institution, was immune from hardship. The loss of scrambled eggs, bacon and other cooked breakfast foods in the dorms of upperclassmen on weekdays seems to have stirred the most ire.
"Students generally feel that if you come to Harvard, for what you're paying, you should probably have the right to a hot breakfast," said Andrea Flores, a senior who is president of the Undergraduate Council. "They want to preserve the things that are at Harvard that you can't get anywhere else."
Some students are feeling the cuts more than others. Hayward said that those who live on the Quad, a 15-minute walk from Harvard Yard, were disproportionately affected because the library there was closed and shuttle bus service to and from the central campus curtailed. (Quad residents are touchy to begin with - "getting quadded," or assigned to live on that part of campus, is many a student's nightmare.)
Varsity athletes have also suffered more than most, said Johnny Bowman, a junior who is monitoring the cuts for the Undergraduate Council, because they were the biggest devotees of hot breakfast.
"It was a big shock," Bowman said. "Athletes were accustomed to coming back from early morning practice and getting their nutrients - a solid meal."
On top of that loss, some club teams find themselves sharing space at the Malkin Athletic Center because it closes earlier on weeknights. Khoa Tran, president of Harvard Taekwondo, told The Harvard Crimson that his team would have to share practice space with the Crimson Dance Team - and he was not sure what to expect.
"It will be an interesting mix because they will be playing dance music while we do our routines," he told the newspaper. "We ourselves yell every time we kick ... and we kick a lot."
Harvard's endowment was $26 billion in June 2009, down from $36.9 billion in June 2008, a 27 percent decrease. The loss is especially hard on the Faculty of Arts and Science, which includes Harvard College, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering, because the endowment provides half of its budget.
Though faculty jobs have so far been protected, the university laid off 250 staff members this summer, said Jeff Neal, a Harvard spokesman. He said it was too soon to know whether future cuts would affect students.
"We are working hard to minimize the impact of the global financial downturn on any substantive aspect of student life," he said in an e-mail message.
Flores said that after excluding students from conversations about what to cut last spring, the administration is now seeking their input. The administration scrapped a plan to end weeknight shuttle service at 1:30 a.m. instead of 3:45 a.m. after a student outcry, she said, though it did cut the service on weekend mornings.
The Faculty of Arts and Sciences has also started an online "idea bank" where students can submit proposals for saving money. The 170 submissions so far include charging tour groups to enter Harvard Yard and having students clean their own bathrooms instead of paying other students to do it as part of a work program.
"We understand we have to give up something," Flores said. "But students want to be able to say what they're willing to give up and what they want to protect. As long as that's part of the discussion, I think the process can hopefully be done peacefully."