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Letters

Cambridge 02138

May-June 2022

The Arboretum

What a wonderful piece! (“Rooted,” by Nancy Kathryn Wilecki, March-April, page 28) I don’t think I’ve ever sent you a letter but this visual essay prompts me to. Have to say, I’m particularly grateful you included the picture of the katsura tree. What a lovely story. It embodies the spirit of the whole Arboretum.

Saniel Bonder ’72
Sonoma, Calif.

 

The article is welcome publicity for one of Harvard’s greatest resources, the Arnold Arboretum. However, I am disappointed to point out two critical words missing in the article: Native Americans. The Arboretum staff as well as four generations of Harvard-affiliated archaeologists have documented human presence there dating back 5,000 years. The arboretum is one of the few remaining landscapes in Boston with enough integrity where we can study human adaptations to climate change over such a long period of time. Before speculating about the Harvard lease for the remaining 1,850 years, it is important to convey to readers what we’ve already learned about the past five millennia. Perhaps a follow-up article on the archaeology of the arboretum would be in order.

Steven Pendery, A.M. ’79, Ph.D. ’87
Brookline, Mass.

 

Nancy Kathryn Walecki did a great job of discussing the interesting history of the Arnold Arboretum and its relationship with the city of Boston. Should the article have noted that some of the photographs from the 1910s-1920s were hand-colored?

Also, the Arnold Arboretum is not “Boston’s only free major cultural institution.” The Boston Public Library, both the main branch at Copley Square, and the numerous branch libraries, is also a free major cultural institution. After all, an arboretum is a living library of trees, and one can “check out” the seeds to take home to plant.

Alan Kabat, Ph.D. ’90
Washington, D.C.

Nancy Kathryn Walecki responds: It would have been more correct to say “only free major museum.” Visitors cannot “check out” seeds to plant at home—taking cuttings or seeds from the plants is prohibited.

 

Speak Up, Please

Harvard Magazine welcomes letters on its contents. Please write to “Letters,” Harvard Magazine, 7 Ware Street, Cambridge 02138, or send comments by email to [email protected].

 

Black Schooling

Lydialyle Gibson gives a fresh, fine account of breakthrough historical research by Jarvis Givens who has discovered something new about the underground, at times dangerous, teaching of Black history to young Black students in Jim Crow America (“Fugitive Pedagogy,” March-April, page 36). An oral history interview recorded in 2009 with The Reverend Jerry Moore was the “aha” moment for Givens. I knew Moore. We were clergy colleagues in Washington, D.C., each serving churches on the same street, though I was always deferential to him as my senior in both years and prominence.

In fact, his major leadership role in the city for five decades would have been appropriate to mention in the narrative. Jerry Moore was an important and respected voice on the D.C. City Council, a much-admired alumnus of Howard University, and a giant in the pulpit of his distinguished Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, a church founded in 1839. His career actually proves the point that his early education in Black history inspired an amazing life.

William L. Fox, M.Div. ’78
President Emeritus, St. Lawrence University
Charlotte, Vermont

 

In the March-April issue Lydialyle Gibson in her wonderful report about the research of Jarvis Givens and his book Fugitive Pedagogy notes the “fierce debates about the legacy of slavery and racism and how to teach it in schools.”  How about a mandatory course in black history for every white high school junior or senior?  Some black kids in each classroom would give perspective and help keep things honest, but they don’t need the course. They know the history from their parents, grandparents, and great grandparents, and they live its sequels and repercussions every day.

 Now how’s that for an idea that will go absolutely nowhere!

 Malcolm J. Curtis,  S.M. ’77
North Haledon, N.J.

 

The Business Agenda

While Harvard Business School Dean Datar’s “A Bold Business Agenda” (March-April, page 16) is certainly an ambitious restructuring and earns kudos, it is still incomplete. In its newly defined priorities for teaching business executives, it incorporates the spectrum of contemporary thinking on diversity, climate change, heartland America, and everything digital, but fails to include the increasing intersection of business with politics and government. With the crisis in Ukraine, business leaders have had “to learn and learn really fast” to tie national security more closely to economic and social considerations. They’ve had to stand up for freedom, national security, the rule of law, and human rights. HBS needs to include this vein of learning in its academic agenda.

Although most executives have reacted to the crisis in Europe by curbing activity with Russia, proactive considerations of national responsibility and “security of country” obligation have generally been absent across the board. Take the example of the fossil-fuel industry. Had executives included energy-security considerations in planning, had they thought of energy security as analogous to national security—they would not have pivoted so sharply from making capital investments in drilling and maintenance to returning cash to shareholders through higher dividends and stock buybacks. Consider the consequences: our self-sufficiency in oil and gas has lapsed, the price of gasoline at the pump has skyrocketed, and we are back pleading with Saudi leaders to open the spigot.

HBS’s agenda needs to be informed by the fact that in today’s world, businesses no longer operate in free markets—or for that matter, even imperfect markets. Executives are compelled to operate in global ecosystems resulting from the increased intersection of politics and economics. At a more granular level, we need to explore such topics as managing within autocratic government ecosystems, resource- and commodity-controlled ecosystems, restricted human-rights ecosystems, and so on. The changed global order not only affects all industries, but everything from global supply chains to intellectual property protection.

Farrokh D. Kamdin, M.P.A. ’90
Towson, Md.

 

Dean Datar presents two programs under “Business and global society,” OneTen to help one million black people lacking a college degree have successful careers, and Heartland America to connect de-industrialized, mid-American regions with coastal peers, HBS, and other resources to help develop promising innovations.

Can the programs work together to make them more effective? Cities like Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and others have many black people needing careers and would support new, innovative businesses especially if they provided well-paying jobs for people without a college degree. Further, why not tap into the HBS alumni working and retired in these cities to help effect the desired goals? Together we can accomplish more than working alone.

Mike Clement, M.B.A. ’71
Birmingham, Mich.

Russian Bureaucracy

I enjoyed the “Treasure” section (“The Fighting Pencil,” March-April, page 68) about Soviet-era cartoons that attacked the politically safe target of inefficiency among low-level bureaucrats. But I am compelled to point out some translation problems in the portion of the article about “The Gigantic Turnip.”

The original title of the Russian folk tale is simply “The Turnip.” It is also commonly known by its first line as “Grandpa Planted a Turnip.” Further, the Russian text employs the diminutive-hypocoristic form of “turnip” (turniplet?) because (a) the story is meant for small children for whom many Russian words are routinely “cutified” and (b) it is comical in that the cute little turnip sprout proceeds to grow to an enormous size. More importantly, though, the point of the cartoon is not that the turnip hasn’t been “picked” by the “state-sponsored service.” Grandpa and his motley crew successfully harvested the freakish vegetable in the fall, but now it is winter; and Grandpa is asking, “So when are you going to come pick up the turnip?” The failure being mocked is the timely transport of the vegetable, not its harvesting.

Goods left behind to rot on railway sidings constituted a common problem in the USSR. My mother, who grew up in the Stalin era, told of spotting a snow-covered hill near the railway station in Kuteinikovo, a town in the Donetsk Region. She decided to round up some friends for a sledding party, and the group had much fun until she realized that the snow was concealing several tons of abandoned sugar. She told her mother about the find, and the family returned that night, armed with buckets and pillowcases. Sugar had been unavailable for over a year in Eastern Ukraine thanks to Stalin’s state-sponsored famine. Word spread quickly through the town and the Sugar Mountain was leveled in a few days.

The old Soviet Union delighted in inflicting misery on its own population which, albeit rarely, might manage a small, sweet revenge. I see that the new Soviet Union is now busy inflicting new miseries on innocent populations. It’s the only thing at which the Soviets truly excel.

Alexander Lasareff-Mironoff ’68
Fayetteville, Ark.

Nancy Kathryn Walecki responds: The correspondent is technically correct, according to the library’s experts, but the core message of the cartoon remains correct, as presented.

Of greater moment, where the Treasure text read that “farmers falsely reported record-high yields while millions starved,” the starvation would have been true in the 1920s and 1930s (particularly during the Stalinist famine imposed on Ukraine) and during World War II, that was almost certainly not the case in or after 1953. There were shortages, but no starvation in the postwar USSR.

 

“Shopping Week”

I was disappointed to read the letter supporting preregistration signed by some of my fellow Directors of Undergraduate Studies (see harvardmag.com/shopping-undergrad-22 and “Shopping Week, R.I.P.?” News Briefs, March-April, page 22). Actually, this is not quite right. I am a professor of physics, a proud member of the College class of 1968, and Head Tutor for the physics and chemistry and physics concentrations. I prefer the old Harvard title “Head Tutor” to the modern “DUS” designation because I have been here long enough to know that it is not possible to actually “direct” anything, and that is part of what is so special about Harvard.

I am often asked by prefrosh whether they should accept Harvard’s offer. I always answer, honestly, that Harvard is not for everyone. It works best for students who can thrive in the creative chaos of the Harvard environment. The reason for much of the chaos is Harvard’s pride and joy. Our students are, I think, the most intellectually diverse group of students anywhere. We don’t have cookie-cutter students and we don’t teach cookie-cutter courses. It is important for students to get a sense of how the professor teaches and the feel of the class, staff, and students, and that simply cannot be done the semester before. I recognize that shopping week adds to the chaos of the first few weeks, particularly for large concentrations, but as a former shopper myself and a House Master/Faculty Dean for 20 years, I know how important it is to the undergraduates in all concentrations. We should try every other possibility for mitigating the problems caused by shopping week before we take the drastic step of requiring preregistration.

It may be that the administrative juggernaut of preregistration is unstoppable, but I encourage students and alumni to keep trying to explain to professors, administrators, donors, or anyone who will listen that shopping week is a unique and valuable part of Harvard College.

Howard Georgi
Mallinckrodt professor of physics
Cambridge

 

It appears that the valuable Harvard system of “shopping week” for courses is again under fire. The debate about shopping week occurred before, in 2003 and 2018, and was also reported in Harvard Magazine then.

In a 2018 letter on the subject, I wrote, “The extraordinary value of the shopping period should not be weighed against small inconveniences for the faculty.…The shopping period is a unique Harvard activity with creative educational benefits. It encourages students to try new areas of Harvard’s wide offerings.”

In my own case, I discovered the course “Plants and Human Affairs” given by Professor Richard E. Schultes, which resulted in my first scientific publication. This was a course that I never would have taken without the opportunity to hear the dynamism of the professor and the fascinating course content during shopping period. During my first year alone, the shopping period also enabled me to learn about courses that I ended up taking in anthropology, philosophy, and psychology.

Another aspect of the debate that rarely gets mentioned is that many students end up auditing courses, above their normal course load, when they are attracted to them by shopping-period exposure. In my case, that included a philosophy course on Berkeley and a full year of a fine-arts course.

Edward Tabor ’69
Bethesda, Md.

 

As alumni, faculty, and affiliates of Harvard, we maintain an avid interest in the strength of Harvard’s undergraduate curriculum. One of Harvard College’s greatest strengths, in our view, has been its open-minded, curiosity-promoting liberal arts model, grounded in constant encouragement for students to explore, develop, and discover their intellectual and occupational interests. For students from wide-ranging educational backgrounds such as ours—from lower-income U.S. public schools to schools in more exam-driven countries with less access to the liberal arts—a Harvard education can offer a breath of fresh air from the standardized coursework that some of us were used to.

This is why we are deeply concerned by Harvard’s move from course “shopping week” to “course preview period” and now to a model where students must register for all courses as early as April and are expected to remain in those courses. The liberal arts model’s interweaving of disciplines and ideas functions best when students are encouraged to explore interesting topics freely and make connections between different fields on their own. We believe that too many of that model’s benefits will be lost under the new system.

Students today face daunting career pressures and high stakes for maintaining high grades, discouraging students from taking risks with classes. Exploring an unknown field, with an unusual topic and an unfamiliar professor, can be especially daunting for students whose family, immigration, or financial circumstances force them to plan carefully for post-grad careers. If you deter students from visiting lectures and impose administrative burdens on changing courses during the first week, the risks of trying something new become far greater.

We benefited greatly from opportunities for students to freely select courses and believe that the Harvard education we experienced would have been weaker and less intellectually rich without a free, flexible, and open course registration period. Course shopping helped those of us who were Harvard undergraduates enter areas like law, art history, plant biology, neuroscience, developmental economics, quantum field theory, and Japanese religion, letting us discover life-altering interests that we as 18-year-olds would never have imagined. Course shopping gave us or our students a chance to connect diverse disciplines in ways all too rare around the world, and helped make us open to questions and topics that, no matter how advanced our stage in education, we might otherwise not have known to appreciate.

The chance for many of us as students to better evaluate our needs and discover unexpected interests before deciding on courses made us more inquisitive in classes, and more engaging and motivating for our mentors and classmates. Thinking of Harvard’s class of 2025 and future classes, we worry about what may become of the intellectual excitement of Harvard courses if the faculty upholds barriers that prevent students from exploring intellectually and discovering their interests.

For those of us serving as teaching fellows, the harmful effects of eliminating shopping week are clear. Students will have to decide on a course before they can see what it is like. For example, a student may shy away from a course with a heavy-looking workload, never seeing how skilled lecturers and TFs can make difficult subject matter fun and approachable. With shopping week, we could often witness the benefits of having a roster full of students who made well-informed decisions to enroll. Sadly, opportunities to see instructors in action, which give students better insights and reassurance about a class, have been discouraged by the latest registration policies. Instead, students’ enrollment decisions will likely be increasingly shaped by the rumors and imperfect ratings of the Q, or eventually of external sites like RateMyProfessors.

We understand that many aspects of university life had to change during the pandemic. It would be bizarre to suppose that course shopping—likely the single most Zoom-appropriate of all of Harvard’s traditions—should for public health reasons be one of the first victims of the pandemic. We hope that Harvard College will quickly return to and maintain a highly flexible, open, intellectually dynamic course enrollment system, a key and underappreciated foundation that made Harvard’s liberal arts model thrive.

NoteThis statement was co-signed by Harvard alumni and faculty from 10 countries and 26 different Harvard departments or concentrations.

Naomi Berhane (Biomedical Engineering, ’20)

Cengiz Cemaloglu (Anthropology and Government, 18)

Jiafeng Chen (Applied Mathematics, 19)

Sasinat Chindapol (Environmental Science and Public Policy, 19)

Lulu Chua-Rubenfeld (History, ’18, J.D. 22)

Brendan Zhi Min Dean (Integrative Biology, ’19)

Sal DeFrancesco (Social Studies, 19)

Erica Eisen (History of Art and Architecture, 16)

Jade Freeze (Chemistry and Physics, 19)

Howard Georgi (Chemistry and Physics, 68),
professor of Physics and former faculty dean of Leverett House

Rachel Gologorsky (Computer Science and Mathematics, 19)

Susan Greenhalgh (honorary degree, AM ’11), 
professor of Anthropology, emeritus

 Samarth Gupta (Economics, ’18)

Archie Hall (Social Studies, 20)

James Hankins (honorary degree, AM 92),
professor of History

Luke Heine (Sociology, ’17)

Jennifer Hoffman (Physics, ’99),
professor of Physics 

Rebecca Jarvis (Linguistics and Mathematics, 19)

Gurbani Kaur (Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology, 17)

Max Kuhelj Bugaric(Government, 19)

 Anisa Kureishi (Philosophy and Physics, 19)

Ju Hyun Lee (Chemistry, 18)

Jessica Levy (Social Studies and Philosophy, 18)

Harry Lewis (Applied Mathematics, ’68, PhD 74),
professor of Computer Science

Lucy Li (Applied Mathematics, 21)

Jiang Li (Comparative Literature and Physics, 17)

Mateo Lincoln (Music and Comparative Literature, 19)

David Malan (Computer Science ’99, PhD ’07),
professor of Computer Science 

Theodore Motzkin (Classics and Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations, 19)

Judith Palfrey (History and Literature, 67),
professor of Pediatrics and Global Health and former faculty dean of Adams House

Sean Palfrey (Biology, 67),
former faculty dean of Adams House

Matthew Pasquini (Astrophysics and Physics, 16)

Rohan Pavuluri (Statistics, 18)

Drew Pendergrass (Physics and Mathematics, 20)

Dwight Perkins (Economics, PhD 64),
professor of Economics, emeritus

Juliana Rodriguez (Social Studies, 19)

Stephen Peter Rosen (Government, ‘74, PhD 79),
professor of Government and former faculty dean of Winthrop House

Laurence Tribe (Mathematics, ‘62, J.D. 66),
University Professor, emeritus

Richard Tuck (honorary degree, AM 95),
professor of Government

Salil Vadhan (Mathematics and Computer Science, ’95),
professor of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics 

Richard Yarrow (History and Philosophy, 19)

Kangrong (Allison) Zhang (Applied Mathematics, ’20) 

 

Workplace Culture

The note inCultural Connections” (7 Ware Steet, March-April, page 5) resonated with my varied work experience at Harvard.

Many decades ago, when I worked as a “faculty secretary” at a Harvard graduate schools, the secretaries (overwhelmingly female) resented being told by professors (overwhelmingly male) to work on their consulting projects. We were paid to do University work. Any extra typing (yes, they were typewriters) should have been done voluntarily, on our own time, and properly compensated by those overpaid professor/consultants.

In another graduate school, a professor who proudly strutted “feminist” credentials, told a visiting scholar—not entitled to staff support—“Oh, you can use my secretary.” That is an exact quotation. I was the secretary. I would have been glad to help the scholar, but I object to being used as a tool.

Finally, at one point, I worked as what was then called a “house secretary,” now called a “house administrator.” My office was the nicest I had in 20 years of office work—in an old building, with large windows overlooking a courtyard. The office was at the building entrance, so I saw all the students going in and out, and became friends with many. My first week on the job, a young man came bounding into the office, waving a rake, and extending his unencumbered hand with “Hi! I’m the House gardener.”

Many years later, after that House was renovated, I went to see what the new office was like. It took me 15 minutes to get into the building (I remembered the phone numbers for the house and superintendent’s offices, and no one answered), and once in, no student could tell me where the offices were. When I finally found the office cube tucked away in a far-off corridor with other cubes, I thought, “Why would you work here?” It isn’t just the professors and other people who are essential to in-person education—it’s social interaction with those at “the bottom of the University payscale.”

By the way, none of these experiences happened in the two Harvard faculties from which I received degrees.

Jane Arnold, A.L.B. ’85, M.T.S. ’92
Pawtucket, R.I.

 

Solace

The introduction to Harvard Magazine’s otherwise excellent excerpt of Michael Ignatieff’s book (Solace in Dark Times,” March-April, page 47) refers to the Psalms of the “Old Testament.” The latter designation of the Hebrew Bible can mean “venerable” but more often has been understood invidiously to suggest that the Holy Scripture of Judaism has been superseded by the Christian New Testament, with the implication that the latter invalidates God’s Covenant with Israel, etc.

In short, the term has been a key trope of theological anti-Semitism—the root of an old, murderous, and unfortunately persistent hatred. That hatred flourished in Cambridge as elsewhere: one recalls that Harvard’s President Lowell invented the numerus clausus used to exclude Jews from American universities. At a time when society is re-examining terminology that reinforces and perpetuates prejudice, the term “Old Testament” needs to be retired. The Psalms, written in Hebrew and preserved for humankind by the Jewish people, belong to the Hebrew Bible and should be identified as such.

 James R. Russell
Mashtots professor of Armenian studies emeritus
Cambridge

Capitalizing “Black”?

While it’s good that Harvard Magazine is making up for centuries of neglect with a number of recent articles about research and writings by and about African-Americans, it seems strange that you have not followed the lead of most major publications in capitalizing “Black” when it refers to the group of people, as opposed to being an adjective for a dark color. This can lead to confusion in expressions like “Black comedy” (and anyway, as Nelson Mandela famously pointed out to the judge in his trial, Black people aren’t actually black.) And it’s more respectful.

 Michael Stoler ’89
Greenbelt, Md.

 

Editor’s note: Although other media have made the change, we have so far chosen not to do so. Proponents maintain that capitalizing “Black” appropriately recognizes a shared, distinctive culture and history within the United States context. Opponents, like essayist and assistant professor of English and of African and African American studies Jesse McCarthy, have advanced other arguments, including the powerful example of Toni Morrison, Litt.D. ’89, who did not go for capitalization, either. On a related matter: one could consider the treatment of “white,” as in “white noise” or “white people.” Most organizations that have chosen to capitalize “Black” have decided decisively against capitalizing “White” similarly, because of the associations of that term with supremacist and racist groups.

 

Earl Brown

Thanks for Stephen Eschenbach’s article on Earl Brown (Vita, March-April, page 40). It was nice to be reminded and to learn more about him. My mom, Margaret Bassett worked with Mr. Brown at Life magazine. She liked working with him. I was a kid and never met him. But Earl Brown was indirectly very important to me. He got my mom tickets to Ebbets Field so I could see my beloved Dodgers.

John Bassett ’60, G.S.D. ’66
Brookline, Mass.

 

Kudos All Around

I would like to express my appreciation for the way Harvard works to fortify the connection between its alumni and the University. As I approach my 55th Class Reunion year, I observe that I feel a more positive bond to Harvard, and to my class, than I did upon graduation. And it’s plain to see how Harvard made that happen.

First, my connection to Harvard has been built over the years by the regular arrival of Harvard Magazine. The magazine’s high quality—content rich, deep, and diverse—has from the outset induced me to read it. And its sharing Harvard’s struggles to live up to the University’s ideals has kindled greater admiration for the institution.

Second, while I had little sense while I was at Harvard of being a member of the “Class of 1967,” in the years since there’s arisen some vague but still meaningful sense of being part of that “Class.” That feeling has developed thanks to the arrival, every five years, of a bound compendium of all the statements sent in by those in the class who have taken up Harvard’s invitation to communicate with their classmates.

These quinquennial books—sent, like the magazine, at no charge to every member for whom Harvard has an address—have in some sense created a community of people. Harvard’s investing in this regular convocation of people turns our class—who happened to have been once in the same place at the same time—into one of those special groups with whom we travel through the course of life (career, family, health, quest).

Obviously, Harvard has good financial reasons to invest in holding its sons and daughters close: the return in donations is doubtless a big motivating factor. But I sense that it is more than that—that Harvard truly does care about that dimension of itself that is the “Harvard community.” And I appreciate that.

 Andy Schmookler ’67
Orkney Springs, Va.

 

Housing Lottery

Housing Day has passed and with it the emotional rollercoaster experienced by first-years. Social media captures the despair felt by the “quadded” for all to see. As my daughter is a first-year I watched several of these reaction videos, struck by the sadness with which the news of “getting into” a quad house was received. Fortunately it is not difficult to come up with a more equitable housing solution for all students.

Let us acknowledge what works in Harvard’s housing system:

1) 4 years of guaranteed housing

2) Equality of opportunity if not of outcome (despite the distance from the Quad to Science Center Plaza being roughly the same as that of the furthest river houses)

4) A sense of community among the quadded

5) A feeling of having a second family in one’s residential house

Having said that the system suffers 3 deficiencies:

1) The quadded end up living a half hour from 3/4 of their classmates for 3/4 of their college lives.

2) The river houses have greater access to Harvard Square

3) Athletes are unfairly distanced from the sports complex across the river.

Some argue students’ primary focus should be on their studies. While I agree that a fantastic education is a greater priority than housing, judging by the reaction videos to the various houses, residential life is both very important to undergraduates and very unfair in its outcomes.

This proposal seeks to keep what works while making the system fairer:

• First year housing would remain as current

• The quad would become exclusively sophomore housing with students choosing their blocking groups at the end of freshman year

• Those sophomores who do not “fit” in the quad would all be assigned to the next “least” appealing house as determined by the administration

• Freshmen who did not get to live in the Yard would choose to live in the Quad or in the overflow house

• Housing Day would take place at the end of sophomore year maintaining current traditions

• Students would live in the same house for their junior and senior Years

While the main benefit of implementing this system would be a significantly more equitable outcome, it is by no means the only one, as it would also:

• Foster a greater sense of class spirit by creating a sophomore housing campus

• Maintain Harvard’s sense of community in the upper-class houses via multiple years lived in one house

• Create the sense that housing “improves” along with seniority

• Maintain Harvard’s housing day traditions via a sophomore housing day.

We do not have to speculate as to which housing system is better. We can apply the philosophy of Harvard’s own John Rawls to test the merits of the proposal. His Veil of Ignorance research would be conducted among first years in their fall semester presenting the current and proposed systems. Likewise, according to the Rawls Difference Principle, current and/or former residents of the Quad would be surveyed. The purpose being to understand each group’s views as to the fairness of both systems.

No doubt there are obstacles to implementing this proposal, but surely finding a more equitable outcome for all students makes it worth the effort to overcome them. 

German Uribe ’94
Guaynabo, Puerto Rico

 

Allston Agonistes

“Allston Agonistes” (online March 17, at harvardmag.com/allston-issues-22), about Harvard’s development plans in Allston made claims regarding the benefits to the Charles River of a new seven foot outfall pipe the university would like to construct as part of its Enterprise Research Campus project, including that the pipe would reduce flooding, reduce phosphorus pollution and improve the health of the Charles River. These are all outcomes that Charles River Watershed Association would support, however, neither Harvard nor Boston Water and Sewer Commission has provided sufficient data or analysis to back up these claims. The article also implied that the community’s call for at least 20% of the project area to be designated as open space into perpetuity was unreasonable. In contrast, we believe 20% should be the floor, particularly as Allston-Brighton’s ratio of protected open space per 1,000 residents is almost half the rest of the City (4.83 acres in Allston vs. the city average of 7.59 acres). The Boston Open Space & Recreation Plan 2015–2021 noted, “Prioritizing the creation of meaningful, usable, open space as Allston continues to densify is essential.”

Emily Norton, M.P.P. ’95
Executive Director, Charles River Watershed Association

 

Editor's note: The article does not take a position on whether the community’s request for 20 percent or more open space in perpetuity is reasonable. The article reports on the debate: what the community wants, and where Harvard’s forward-looking interests may clash with that, as reflected in this summary of the University’s letter to Mayor Wu:

 “Harvard’s long-term plans, a hundred years or more from now, may include conversion of commercial areas to campus spaces. As such, its commitments to open space assume that public easements will not be imposed, since that would hamper any future campus-development efforts.”

 

I was disappointed in the March 17th article, “Allston Agonistes,” regarding the contested vision for Harvard’s development in Allston. As a member of the Harvard Allston Task Force, I have reviewed Harvard’s plans carefully. The article made several claims that are questionable. First, it states that Harvard’s offer of 20% open space is unusual. Here are three examples of open space commitments in current development proposals in the region: Suffolk Downs: 25%; Dorchester Bay City: 60%; MIT Volpe Center: 35%. Likewise the article implies that the Coalition for a Just Allston+Brighton’s call for 33% income restricted housing units is unreasonable. But lab/residential mixed-use development at 119 Braintree Street in Allston is proposing 85% income-restricted units. MassPort is seeking a much higher percentage of affordable units at Parcel D-4 in the Seaport, specifying that the developer must have experience in building projects with at least a 40% affordable units.

 The article also claims that the new Harvard-funded storm drain protects the Charles River, yet the drain is in fact designed to mitigate water quality issues that will be caused by the development. Vice President Lapp states that the storm drain is a community benefit, but it is for Harvard’s benefit—the University will make billions from this private development (as the article notes), and must be responsible for its impacts on the river. To state that State laws protecting river parkland “may prevent a public-interest project that would improve the health of the river” is disingenuous to say the least.

 As the Harvard Allston Task Force wrote to President Bacow last November, we envision a community that takes seriously the challenges of climate change, housing, work, mobility, and social justice. With extensive landholdings in Allston, Harvard should not waste this transformative opportunity.

Barbara Parmenter
Brighton, Mass.

Editor's note:  Harvard Magazine is reporting the facts, as we have done in Allston since the 1990s. University discussions with the Boston Water and Sewer Commission about the need for storm water improvements in North Allston date to Harvard’s 2006 Master Plan filings with the City of Boston and the state. Notably, Tishman Speyer’s current proposal for the Enterprise Research Campus does not depend on the construction of the new storm drain that Harvard offered to fund. That storm drain, if built, would protect the North Allston neighborhood, Harvard’s Science and Engineering Complex, and the Enterprise Research Campus from flooding. But it would be carrying mostly neighborhood water.

 

Amplification: Class Credit

The “historian William H. Chafe” mentioned on page 31 of the January-February issue (in “Both Sides Now,” the cover story on Radcliffe Institute dean Tomiko Brown-Nagin) should have been followed by ’62, indicating his Harvard education, as an astute reader noticed—but we editors did not.

 

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