Departments Scramble for Office Space

Faculty of Arts and Sciences

After winning a lengthy battle last year to become an academic concentration, Women's Studies appeared finally to have found a permanent place at Harvard. But this summer another obstacle popped up in the way of the infant concentration.

It had no home.

Cramped into a two-room Dunster St. office it had occupied when it was a mere committee to advise students on courses, Women's Studies was slated to move into the fourth floor of 5-7 Linden St. But an inspection of the building found that the structure would not be able to support the weight of the books, shelves and files.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), Harvard's largest faculty, is bursting at the seams with the buildings it owns almost completely filled. And much of the space, empty and occupied, is in dire need of repairs.

The situation has sent administrators scrambling to find room for the large numbers of students and academics and has raised concerns that future growth may be limited.

"We have virtually no empty space anywhere," says Associate Dean for Administration Robert A. Rotner.

For Women's Studies a temporary solution was all that was possible. Officials located space in 51 Brattle St., one of five buildings Harvard bought last year. Women's Studies will be able to set up shop there only temporarily because that building is slated for renovations in about a year, says Associate Dean for Physical Resources Philip J. Parsons.

"This won't be a permanent home for Women's Studies, but it solved the immediate crisis," he says.

"It's a permanent crisis," Parsons says. "We're terribly short of space. There's tremendous competition for office space."

The shortage has pulled departments in several different directions. History of Science has been moved in and out of about half a dozen locations, said department administrator Betsy Smith. Currently it is splintered in three different buildings: the Science Center, 5-7 Linden St., and Vanserg Hall.

"It fractures the feeling of community," she says.

To consolidate the office space somewhat, History of Science this fall will move into the adjacent Linguistics Department offices in the Science Center. Linguistics will move into the recently renovated basement of Grays Hall.

Other departments, rather than being split up in offices on opposite ends of the campus, are squashed into one location. Space is tightest in the humanities, Parsons says.

At Boylston Hall, the Romance Languages and Literatures Department struggles with severely cramped quarters. Twelve to 13 teaching fellows and assistants share each office.

"It's chaotic and useless," says teaching fellow Mary S. Gossy. "It's a place to hang your umbrella."

Teaching fellows said they have been forced to hold office hours in the Greenhouse Cafe and other places in the Square in order to find room and privacy.

The lack of space today could have severe implications by restricting future growth of the FAS, which is twice the size of the next largest Harvard faculty.

"This faculty is not expanding or growing at the moment," Rotner says. "We may have wonderful ideas and the money, but the main constraint is land."

In addition, a 1986 audit of the FAS physical plant found that each of its 242 buildings is in need of renovations. Administrators estimate cost of the repairs in the hundreds of millions. An added problem is that the exteriors of much of the property cannot be altered because the structures are historical landmarks.

Rotner says FAS has no plans to purchase additional property. Instead, he said the administration will try to use what land and office space it has more efficiently.

"We hope to come out with a plan that makes the best possible use of the space we have," Rotner says.

Parsons has divided his staff into three units in order to deal more effectively with plans, construction and operation of the physical plant.

Renovations to the Busch-Reisinger Museum, scheduled to be completed in about a year, will alleviate some of the burden and free up space elsewhere, Parsons says.

There is one shared twinkle in many administrators' and department members' eyes. The Lowell Lecture Hall, located across the street from the Science Center, is large and currently unoccupied.

"Ultimately, when the Faculty of Arts and Sciences does build a new building, that's the best site near the Yard," Parsons says.

The Undergraduate Council last year attempted to gain administration approval to convert the building into a student center but failed. Others have also approached FAS with "ideas for the perfect use of that site," Parsons says.