John Harvard's Journal
After a fall semester in which only about one-quarter of undergraduates were in residence (living on campus, but taking classes remotely), and many took leaves or deferred admission, the College in December invited seniors, most juniors, and students who cannot pursue their academic program at home to be on campus for the spring. That represented a prospective cohort of 3,100: about 46 percent of typical enrollment—the maximum number who could be safely housed in single bedrooms (see harvardmag.com/covid-college-springplan-21). Even with the success of fall public-health measures, that seemed ambitious, as COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths spread nationwide following Thanksgiving and the year-end holidays.
In the event, somewhat more than 1,700 undergraduates returned for the semester, beginning January 25, and about 5,200 enrolled (compared to a typical student body of 6,600 or so), knowing that teaching would continue to be online, and that normal social interactions would remain strictly limited (see harvardmag.com/covid-springonsite-undergrads-21). Arriving on campus for her final semester after the unplanned home-stay in Arizona begun last March, Meena Venkataramanan ’21, one of the magazine’s Ledecky Undergraduate Fellows, described the new college routines: nasal swabs, wrist bands, and microwaveable meals for the initial 24 hours of quarantine; in-room, Harvard-supplied snacks—and face masks and sanitizer (see harvardmag.com/covid-college-springreturn-21).
Whether spring athletics could proceed, or the Harvard Art Museums reopen (to cite only a few current constraints) was uncertain. But as the term began, with the coldest weather of winter settling in, Massachusetts and many other states began to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, and ramp up vaccinations. In combination with Harvard’s public-health regimens, it appeared that the pandemic-adapted semester could proceed. For that, the community could be thankful: Stanford, which invited freshmen and sophomores back for winter quarter, had to scrub that plan on January 9, as the number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 members of the surrounding community increased tenfold, and more students tested positive.
~John S. Rosenberg
The external review of the Harvard University Police Department (HUPD) commissioned last June was released in December. Conveying the report to the community, President Lawrence S. Bacow said it pointed to a process of redefining public-safety services within the University, based in part on what he called “an open conversation about race and policing, including a robust consideration of structures of power that reinforce and perpetuate subordination in this country and elsewhere.”
The report recommends a “community-driven, stakeholder-informed process of defining what ‘public safety’ is at Harvard and re-imagining how it can best be achieved”—in part by moving beyond the “community policing” model. That entails coming to terms with changed expectations: “A number of community members called for the University to revisit the meaning of public safety and to support a dialogue that meaningfully addresses issues of power, race, systemic racism, fear, and social justice in relation to interactions between the police and the community.” In that context, having HUPD personnel be the primary responders to safety and myriad other community concerns (from petty property thefts to the many demands unrelated to serious crime or violence: behavioral-health problems, noise complaints, alarms, medical aid, etc.) may no longer work. Executive vice president Katie Lapp will lead a group to “reimagine public safety and community well-being at Harvard.” In the meantime, numerous operational changes are being implemented. Read harvardmag.com/police-review-report-20 for further details.
As the University searches for a successor to long-time HUPD chief Francis D. “Bud” Riley,whoretired at year-end, the department’s deputy chief of operations, Denis Downing, has been appointed acting chief.
Samuels and Associates has proposed a seven-story, 270-unit apartment complex at 180 Western Avenue, at the intersection with North Harvard Street, diagonally opposite the Continuum residential and retail complex it developed previously. Harvard assembled and owns the parcel, and has agreed to a long-term ground lease with the developer.
That significant news was promptly overshadowed when Tishman Speyer, designated in December 2019 to be the developer of Harvard’s 14-acre “enterprise research campus” (ERC) along Western Avenue (see harvardmag.com/allston-developer-19), shared with Allston community leaders its vision for a second phase of ERC development: a million square feet of new facilities, including three office/lab towers, two residential buildings encompassing 420 apartments, and a parking garage, all on the southern seven acres (depicted in earlier plans as a surface parking lot). On the northern seven acres, permitting is under way for 900,000 square feet of development, distributed among two office/laboratory facilities (400,000 square feet), a hotel-conference center (250,000 square feet), and residential space (250,000 square feet). Construction will take place between 2022 and 2024. The second phase would be built, subject to approval, between 2025 and 2028.
Despite the pandemic-related emptying-out of downtown offices, permitting for additional residential construction, and especially for laboratory facilities, has proceeded at a torrid pace throughout the region. Multiple developers have announced multihundred-million dollar life-sciences projects in just the last few months, on sites ranging from the waterfront Seaport district to the Fenway, South Boston, and Somerville.
Accelerating Cell Manufacture
Amid the life-sciences research flourishing around Harvard and in the Greater Boston biomedical community, cell and gene-based therapies, such as those that extract, modify, and multiply a patient’s own cells in order to treat difficult diseases like cancer and diabetes, hold tantalizing promise. But proving such therapies’ effectiveness in clinical trials remains difficult and expensive, because cell manufacture requires specialized pharmaceutical-grade facilities, which are in short supply. Two years ago, Harvard began leading a multi-institutional effort to accelerate the development of such therapies, and make it more cost effective, by creating a proposed Center for Biological Therapies focused on early stages of research (see harvardmag.com/biotherapies-19).
In January, the University announced that it had raised $76 million with academic, biotechnology, and industry partners, and leased 40,000 square feet of space in a budding life-sciences hub in nearby Watertown, to house the Center for Advanced Biological Innovation and Manufacturing. “This facility will house academic, hospital, and biopharmaceutical organizations—all committed to working together in advancing high-risk, high-cost pursuits with the potential for high patient impact,” said Richard McCullough, vice provost for research. “The new center will include shared space—where researchers and start-ups can work together—and manufacturing space for the production of cell and viral vector products…a unique platform for talent development in a rapidly growing field.”
The center is expected to open in early 2022, with a staff of about 40 researchers.