Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898 | SUBSCRIBE

Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

John Harvard's Journal

News Briefs

May-June 2018

Toward a Fossil-Fuel-Free Future

President Drew Faust announced on February 6 that Harvard would “seek to become fossil fuel free” by 2050—meeting energy needs sustainably and setting goals for purchased services that “rely as little as possible on fossil fuels.” As an interim objective, the University will “strive to become fossil fuel neutral by 2026” by reducing its own emissions from fossil fuels and investing in “high-quality, off-campus projects that displace comparable amounts of emissions for any emissions that remain.”

McArthur University Professor Rebecca Henderson, a co-chair of a University climate-change task force that developed the new policies, noted in a Harvard Gazette interview that apart from a broader University agenda of working to minimize climate change, Cambridge and Boston both have set zero-emission goals for 2050, making that a necessary target. Massachusetts is also directing utilities to boost supplies of sustainably sourced electricity significantly (perhaps from Canadian hydropower and from offshore wind turbines), enabling customers to purchase supplies of power that have little or no climate impact.

Harvard’s efforts will be overseen by a new sustainability executive committee, populated by faculty members, administrators, and students. Executive vice president Katie Lapp, another task-force co-chair, and vice president for campus services Meredith Weenick will lead a planning process with the schools to identify opportunities to reduce reliance on fossil fuels in electricity purchasing, transportation, Harvard’s district energy power plants, and future building projects.

Henderson (see Harvard Portrait, November-December 2011, page 58) also alluded to a recommendation that Harvard impose a surcharge on campus fossil-fuel consumption—a version of a carbon tax. Yale experimented with a carbon-tax system, equivalent to $40 per ton of carbon-dioxide emissions from energy use, from late 2015 through the spring of 2016. Following the trial, which was found to reduce energy use, as reported in Nature last November, Yale imposed the fee on more than 250 campus buildings, covering nearly 70 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, last July. Harvard’s plan, Henderson said, would offset some, but not all, of the identified damages associated with fossil-fuel emissions.

For further information, see


Building Unabated

Harvard’s Historic Building Boom” (September-October 2017, page 14) reflects the fruits of the capital campaign, but it is now evident that contractors’ good times will continue to roll on. Beyond the Graduate School of Design’s expansive ambitions (Brevia, March-April, page 24), Harvard Divinity School has announced the biggest gift in its history: $25 million, from Susan Shallcross Swartz, campaign co-chair, and James R. Swartz ’64. The funds enable comprehensive renovation and reconfiguration of Andover Hall, the center of the HDS campus.

Separately, Harvard Law School—already erecting a 21,000-square-foot new office building at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Everett Street—has retained Deborah Berke Partners to redesign its Lewis International Law Center; the scope of work includes additional space, a new entrance, removal of library stacks, and increased office and teaching areas, with 2020 targeted for completion. (Berke, dean of Yale School of Architecture, is also designing Princeton’s new residential college, aimed at a 500-student increase in undergraduate enrollment, and perhaps a second one; the latter would enable renovation of existing residences, followed by another increase in enrollment, the third Princeton might effect this millennium.)

As construction proceeds on the massive renewal of Lowell House, design has begun for the Adams House renovation, scheduled to begin construction in 2019. And the University’s “Town Gown Report” to Cambridge also projects work this year on Robinson Hall, home of the history department (accessibility and fire-suppression sprinklers); Radcliffe’s Schlesinger Library (renovation for interactive access to collections and exterior upgrades); the conference center in the Graduate School of Education’s Gutman Library (added capacity); and—in time to welcome the new president—an exterior restoration and replacement of the heating and cooling systems at Massachusetts Hall. 


Onward Online

The Graduate School of Education and the Business School have unveiled an online certificate in school management and leadership (CSML) aimed at K-12 principals and aspiring principals. The program, offered on the HBX platform at an introductory tuition of $399, is co-led by senior lecturer on education Mary Grassa O’Neill, a former principal and superintendent, and Allen S. Grossman, retired MBA Class of 1957 professor of management practice.

Coursera, the for-profit distributor of massive open online courses—MOOCs (as opposed to the nonprofit Harvard-MIT edX consortium)—is doubling down on degree programs with partner institutions. Its  offerings, produced with schools such as the University of Michigan, Arizona State, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, include nine master’s degrees (in fields such as business, computer science, and public health) and now, a bachelor of computer science through the University of London.

A new analysis of Georgia Tech’s huge online master of science in computer science degree found that it enlarges overall educational attainment, by serving older, midcareer students who would not otherwise pursue this level of learning. (This less expensive, nonresidential online version of the degree program, produced with the Udacity MOOC company, does not draw students away from Georgia Tech’s traditional student cohort.) It also serves a cohort from colleges with a higher proportion of low-income students and with lower six-year graduation rates than the matriculants in the residential-degree offering—but blind grading showed online students slightly outperforming in-person learners. Associate professor of public policy Joshua Goodman, Julia Melkers of Georgia Tech, and Sack associate professor of political economy and social studies Amanda Pallais conducted the study.  


Toward Preregistration?

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) may be moving away from undergraduates’ “shopping week.” Students have traditionally voiced support for the right to choose freely among courses at the beginning of each semester, even though some chaos ensues. At the March 6 faculty meeting, College dean Rakesh Khurana said that several faculty members had suggested adopting some form of preregistration. Those who spoke in favor noted that:

  •  “shopping” is short-term, consumerist behavior, and preregistration might encourage students to take long-term academic planning more seriously;
  • at present, many faculty members don’t know how many students to expect, leading to problems in lining up graduate students prepared to run sections (thus jeopardizing an essential part of their professional training), and often causing enrollment to be mismatched with room assignments;
  • much of the first week of class time may be wasted; and
  • in the digital era, students can access the syllabus and other information in advance, making shopping less essential.

A few faculty members who noted from the floor that they generally supported some sort of preregistration—with a provision for students to add or drop courses (to preserve some flexibility while reducing problem-causing swings in class size)—also reminded colleagues that students enjoy, and are entitled to, their freedom to choose.

An advocate for preregistration said it would impose responsibilities on teaching faculty as well, to assure that students would have online access in advance to the current syllabus—and that they would not be lotteried out of preferred courses or encounter unprepared teaching fellows in their sections. Finally, an art historian who lectures and conducts hands-on sections with materials in the Harvard Art Museums maintained that without knowing enrollment accurately, scheduling such essential exercises becomes impossible, making a mockery of the faculty’s expressed commitment to the best methods of experiential learning.

No course of action is yet before the faculty, but one will be soon, Khurana suggested. Attention, shoppers: preregistration is drawing near. Read more at


Final Club Finality

The Corporation having adopted a system of sanctions for undergraduate members of unrecognized single-gender social organizations (USGSOs: final clubs, fraternities, and sororities; see, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ final action—voting them into the Harvard College Handbook for Students—was a foregone conclusion. The enacting language was adopted by a voice vote on March 6, bringing to an end a bitter debate that consumed good parts of two academic years.

In their final form, the implementation measures step back from earlier proposals that incited controversy. Students who wish to be in a leadership position in a recognized College group, or to captain an athletic team, or seek the required endorsement for a fellowship, will not be required to make an oath-like affirmation that they don’t belong to a sanctioned USGSO.

Nor will the College make efforts to identify students who are in violation of the policy, or require USGSOs to report on the demographic composition of their members. Instead, enforcement will proceed similarly to other misconduct issues (such as violations of the alcohol policy), which generally prompt a disciplinary process only when incidents have escalated enough to be brought to the administration. Nor will the College accept anonymous reports of alleged violations. Cases will be heard by the disciplinary Administrative Board, not the separate Honor Council (which investigates violations of academic-conduct standards). The rules apply to current freshmen and successor classes.

USGSO debate, finis—at least until the Corporation’s promised five-year review.

Full details are available at

You Might Also Like:

Elijah DeVaughn '21 in black shirt bearing the word "melanin," stands with his right fist raised

Elijah DeVaughn ’21 marched in Los Angeles last weekend.
Photograph courtesy of Elijah DeVaughn

Protesting, at Home and on the Streets

You Might Also Like:

Elijah DeVaughn '21 in black shirt bearing the word "melanin," stands with his right fist raised

Elijah DeVaughn ’21 marched in Los Angeles last weekend.
Photograph courtesy of Elijah DeVaughn

Protesting, at Home and on the Streets