On the University's Agenda

As the academic year ended, University leaders in various forums outlined Harvard priorities and impending business concerning Allston, a new science initiative, and the University’s international aims. Expect further developments on these and other items on the agenda when campus resumes its busier autumn tempo.


In a briefing for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) at its May 6 meeting, President Drew Faust described the land assembled in Allston not as an end in itself, but rather as a “place to dream for Harvard.” Accordingly, to guide where and how the University should grow during the next several decades—in Cambridge, Longwood, and Allston—she has broadened the Allston advisory group to include her entire council of deans, not just those from schools most directly affected by a likely move to the new campus (such as education and public health). Their work must be integrated, she noted, with Harvard’s financial plans, with the logistical details of what the University can manage, and with the desires of the communities adjoining the new development in Boston, Allston, and Brighton.

She noted that work on the initial science building in Allston was under way, with completion scheduled in 2011, and that Harvard’s long-term master plan for the area was being revised for submission to Boston late this year.

Image of construction

Photograph by Stu Rosner

Construction begins for the first Allston science building—future home of the department of stem cell and regenerative biology; a bioengineering program; and the department of systems biology.

Christopher M. Gordon, chief operating officer of the Allston Development Group (www.allston.harvard.edu), then reminded the faculty that the current “framework” plan for Allston (see “Harvard’s 50-Year Plan,” March-April 2007, page 58), filed in early 2007, had evolved during four years of internal and community consultation (and with the assistance of Cooper, Robertson & Partners). That overall scheme, which depicted 10 million square feet of potential development, is now being refined, he said, with Ayers/Saint/Gross, who specialize in campus planning. Working within the 2007 framework—which allowed for new athletic facilities south of the current ones, undergraduate Houses by the Charles River and, if desired in the future, east of the core Harvard Business School (HBS) campus, professional schools in the middle, a “culture zone” perhaps where the Charlesview apartments are now sited, science and academic buildings south of Western Avenue, and perimeter graduate-student housing and a conference center—the planners are envisioning the space in finer detail, block by block.

Among the refinements Gordon sketched—all subject to debate and further revision in coming months—were:

Landscaping Western Avenue as a green twenty-first-century “Yard.”

Envisioning Barry’s Corner (at North Harvard Street and Western Avenue) as a mini Harvard Square—minus the T stop, of course—with restaurants and stores.

Breaking down “superblocks” with more roadways and smaller buildings, to make the developed campus more permeable.

Extending Rena Park. The 2007 plan envisioned a new park well within the campus development. Now planners are exploring the possibility of reconfiguring it to stretch to the Charles River, providing a second green corridor, walkway, and perhaps a waterway and more natural plant-ings, the length of the campus.

Reorienting sight lines throughout the campus; designing the new development to extend the business school’s radial orientation—it spreads out from a center point at the Eliot House cupola—would maintain views of the Cambridge campus from well within the Allston development.

Melding physical plans and pedagogy, perhaps by arranging buildings from different schools (business, education, public health, laboratories) around a common green, as did Thomas Jefferson’s plan for the University of Virginia, to promote interdisciplinary connections.

Gordon noted that the Allston Development Group had detailed plans for how to resite the athletic facilities, and was working with the museums and FAS dean Michael Smith, respectively, on plans for the cultural district and new residential houses. Detailed program plans and anticipated costs were nearly done for the Graduate School of Education, and were about half done for the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) facilities, he said, with the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) newly interested in exploring whether to locate in Allston. Provision has also been made, Gordon said, for HBS expansion on the parking lots south of its current structures.

Construction of the first science complex, he said, began last November; excavation is proceeding, with the workforce on the five-acre site expected to number 1,000 by year end, and twice that next summer. The four linked buildings include amenities and support facilities—a conference center, retail and cafeteria spaces, a fitness center, and even a rooftop “function room”—that Faust noted would ultimately serve other Harvard buildings as they arise nearby.



One tenant for that science facility may be a new, University-wide bioengineering initiative. The committee charged with designing it delivered a preliminary report to the deans of Harvard Medical School (HMS) and SEAS in early May. According to co-chairs Pamela Silver, professor of systems biology, and Joanna Aizenberg, McKay professor of materials science (see "Harvard Portrait," page 59), the recommendations include undergraduate and graduate curricular components and a research program. Aizenberg said students find bioengineering appealing “because it is so easy to relate to the existing problems of society—healthcare problems, energy problems.”

Photograph of Pamela Silver

Photograph by Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard News Office

Pamela Silver

The principal intellectual challenge is defining a whole new field. A number of peer institutions have bioengineering departments, but most focus on biomedical subjects. The Harvard planners envision biomedical engineering as just one component among many others, including computational biology, synthetic biology, biomimetics, and what is known as “predictable biology”—application of principles learned from engineering disciplines (including computer science) to create new living materials or genetically engineered machines. Harvard has all the ingredients it needs to create a world-leading program in the field, Silver and Aizenberg said, including HMS, HSPH, HBS, SEAS (which operates without departmental boundaries), and the Law School. Following review by the Harvard University Science and Engineering Committee, the bioengineering task force hoped to issue a final report by June 30.


International Harvard

Much farther afield, addressing alumni at the HAA meeting in Shanghai on March 29, and the advisory committee meeting of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies in Cambridge on May 10, President Faust posed a sweeping series of questions about the University’s global opportunities. Drawing on the data collected by Jorge I. Domínguez in his still- nascent position as vice provost for international affairs, Faust cited many strengths: existing regional and international study centers; 4,000 international students enrolled in degree programs; numerous courses with international content; and the upsurge in students having some international experience during their Harvard years (see “A Giant’s Gift,” page 57). She wondered what might be wrought if all those activities were examined strategically, throughout Harvard.

That she pledged to do as one of the priorities of the council of deans, beginning this summer. Should Harvard launch international operations—and if so, where and of what kind? Should it establish alliances or partnerships? How would it engage with truly global issues (the environment, public health) while remaining a university, focused on education and research, as opposed to a consulting firm or a nongovernmental organization delivering social services? How would it engage with different cultures while maintaining its academic values and principles? (A new website—www.worldwide.harvard.edu—prepared by Domínguez’s office gives an overview of Harvard’s international activities.)

The answers to those questions, Faust said, would illuminate much about the future work of faculty members and students, whose lives will increasingly be “lived internationally.”

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