To the Editor:
In its story "The Rise of HPAC" (May 30, 2013), The Crimson rightly identifies many of the roles that Harvard communications plays in the life of the University. We highlight the work of students and the research of Harvard faculty. We work collaboratively with colleagues at Harvard’s Schools. We convey information about milestones and initiatives ranging from research breakthroughs and faculty papers to Harvard’s 375th anniversary and the return of the ROTC to campus. We also serve as a coordinator for media inquiries to ensure accuracy in how the University is portrayed in the press.
Unfortunately The Crimson’s characterization of HPAC's growth and size is wrong on the numbers and incomplete on context. The Crimson asserted that the number of Harvard communicators has more than doubled since 2008. That is not even close to true. Core HPAC staffing levels have grown by only 3.7% annually since 2008. Moreover, HPAC’s core budget has grown by only 2.3% annually over the corresponding period, in line with most school budgets and most central administration departments. The direction given to HPAC, as to other central units, has been to find ways to be both more effective and more efficient as we continue to operate in a resource-constrained environment.
We seek to do this in a rapidly changing communications environment; one where the 24-7 nature of the news media is amplified moment to moment by new technologies, where social and digital tools are central to storytelling, and where the communications demands on respected, global institutions such as Harvard grow daily. As a result, Harvard Public Affairs and Communications (the renamed Office of Government, Community, and Public Affairs, which has existed for more than 40 years) has grown over the last decade, as have communications teams at most other institutions around the country.
Unfortunately, The Crimson’s story completely misses several relevant pieces of information. Eight of the positions counted as “new” by The Crimson in 2013 are identical to positions that existed within this unit in 2008. The Crimson does not count those in its 2008 number. An additional eight of the "new" positions also existed in 2008, but moved within HPAC as part of a central administration-wide effort to bring similar expertise, once strewn throughout various silos, under one roof to increase efficiencies and—importantly—to reduce a reliance on outside vendors and consultants. A similar exercise took place in other central departments.
It is true that new positions have been added to meet the demands of digital communications, although in many cases colleagues counted as part of HPAC by The Crimson actually report to Alumni Affairs & Development, not HPAC, based on an effort to combine those units to—once again—create efficiencies.
We would have happily explained all of this to The Crimson before publication of its story, but neither we nor our colleagues in Human Resources or Finance and Administration were asked by The Crimson to verify the numbers. We have provided this information in detail to The Crimson since publication, but the correction posted to The Crimson website does not address the inaccurate characterizations of the department’s size or growth.
As the University department that regularly provides information to—and organizes interviews on behalf of—the media (including The Crimson), we understand that reporters, in an effort to be fair and accurate, typically provide the opportunity to comment on specific claims such as a growth in staffing or budget numbers. The Crimson chose not to do so in this instance, and the accuracy of its story suffered as a result. We are pleased to set the record straight.
Vice President, Public Affairs and Communications
Assistant Vice President, Communications
Editors’ Note: The claims in this letter are based on an earlier version of The Crimson's May 30, 2013 story "The Rise of HPAC," which has since been corrected.
—Marina N. Bolotnikova and Michael F. Cotter, Editorial Chairs
—Robert S. Samuels, President
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