Harvard at 400

Visions of the University in 2036

Imagining the future—however risky it is to make predictions—can be a comforting activity, even a productive one. And although psychologist Daniel Gilbert's 2006 book Stumbling on Happiness makes a strong case that humans aren't very good at forecasting what will make them happy even a few days hence (much less in 25 years!), it seems that human nature also compels us to build some castles in the air—and maybe even try to move in.

Building that castle, like all human achievements, starts with an idea. Every creation springs from a vision of something that does not exist, but might. Such first stirrings, neither plans nor blueprints, are closer to desires. And desire, as the prime motive force, is essential. Holding in mind a detailed image of a wished-for outcome can be a powerful step in creating that very result.

We asked a baker's dozen plus one of diverse Harvardians to share their images of what the University ought to be a mere quarter-century from now. Not to predict what it will become, just to lay out what each contributor would like to see in a four-centuries-old academy. Taken together, the varied visions don't so much compete with as complement each other: these small discourses resemble less a chessboard than a bouquet to alma mater. With gratitude to all participants, we invite you to draw near, look, and inhale.


A Yardstick of Service

by Bill Gates
The Microsoft founder recommends service as a criterion for values.


by Eli M. Noam and Nadine Strossen
Harvard needs to extend its reach online in the future, without lowering standards.

Farm the Yard

by Bill McKibben
Harvard should teach its students earthy, practical skills as well as mediated ones.

Harvard in a Multipolar World

by Ma Ming-Jeou
Though China may surpass America as an economic power, Harvard can retain its global leadership in higher education by maintaining its core strengths.

Beyond "Highbrow Amateurism"

by John Adams
Harvard could become a place where all talents find a welcome, and art students of all stripes can study with masters.

Tutors: Good, and Cheap 

by John Newmeyer
The House tutorial system effectively educates undergraduates on a small intimate scale and should be strengthened.

Nontraditional Students Surge

by Michael Shinagel
In the future Harvard will serve nontraditional students, both on and off-campus, in much greater numbers than traditional ones.

"Wonder in the Bewilderness"

by Amory B. Lovins
Academic freedom for students should mean the freedom to study what they want, without regard to categories or rigid boundaries and rules.

Tackle the Big Issues

by Franklin W. Hobbs
Harvard needs to structure its research and teaching around several of the world's leading social and economic problems.

The Venture-Capital University

by Caroline Hoxby
Harvard invests in its people in much the way that a venture capitalist invests in a new business venture.

The Arts: More Than Diversion

by Mia Riverton
The arts deserve central consideration in Harvard's mission, not just treatment as an embellishment.

"Even Higher" Education

by Rosabeth Moss Kanter
Harvard's future will include an emphasis on learning by many kinds of students, who attend throughout the life cycle.

An Engine of Class Mobility

by James Fallows
A major strength of Harvard is its ability to enable students to improve their socioeconomic standing, and that should be preserved.

Read more articles by: Craig Lambert

You might also like

Steven Pinker on Apple’s Vision Pro

Professor of psychology on the science and history behind the Vision Pro.

The State of Black America

Harvard African American scholars take stock of a difficult moment. 

Threats Foreign and Domestic

Joseph Nye discusses geopolitics and Harvard’s challenges.

Most popular

Murphy Time

Harvard’s greatest football coach—and one of the best anywhere

Harvard Files Amicus Brief in Graduate Student Unionization Case

The University argues that the relationship between graduate students and universities should remain academic, not managerial, and student labor unions would “damage private sector graduate education.”

Labor Litigator

Attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan takes on the app economy.

More to explore

Photograph of Winthrop Bell 1910

Winthrop Bell

Brief life of a philosopher and spy: 1884-1965

Illustration of people talking to each other with colorful thought bubbles above their heads

Talking about Talking

Fostering healthy disagreement

Vacationing with a Purpose

New England “summer camps” for adults