Regional Centers Serve, Ignore Undergraduates
Besides the over 40 academic departments that offer students many hundreds of classes in dozens of subject areas ranging from art history to chemistry, Harvard also has a multitude of centers that study different regions around the world.
Currently housed in separate buildings throughout the campus, the centers will soon reside, with the Department of Government, in a new complex called the Knafel Center for Government and International Studies.
Over the last 50 years more than 10 centers have been established. The first was the Davis Center for Russian Studies, established in the early 1950s, and the trend continues with the Harvard University Asia Center, founded just three years ago.
The role of these centers may not always be clear to students at the College, and in fact, there has been criticism that they do not actively involve undergraduates as much as they should.
But, as these research institutes have expanded both in number and size over the last half-century, their relationship to undergraduates and graduates has strengthened.
"As any international center director will tell you, I am vigilant and insistent that these scholarly affiliations actually enrich the educational opportunities for undergraduates in the College and graduate students in GSAS," Dean of Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles writes in an e-mail.
In fact, the two centers that opened during Knowles's tenure as dean have created an active connection with undergraduate and graduate students that the older centers have yet to achieve.
A New Direction
"There are lots of programs that connect to undergrads," he says. "For example, we have an active certificate program in Latin American Studies. We probably have about 50-60 [students] this year. There is also a non-credit monthly seminar and an active program for research grants for theses."
More importantly, Reifenberg says, the Rockefeller Center serves as a central location for information about Latin American resources at Harvard.
In addition to the various programs DRCLAS organizes, it also compiles a yearly list of courses relating to Latin American and Iberian studies offered throughout the University.
What characterizes both the Rockefeller Center and the Asia Center, Reifenberg says, is that they draw from all parts of the school
"One unique feature is that we are University wide," he says. "We build bridges across the school."
"Servicing undergrads was never the primary goal of the centers," says Timothy J. Colton, director of the Davis Center for Russian Studies.
The Davis Center, like many others, offers grants and travel assistance to students with research projects abroad, but rarely recruits undergraduates through other means.
There does not seem to be a
huge need for more than that," Colton says. "If things need to change they will, but the initiative will come from the College.
Give and Take
Knowles also points out that other disciplines pool their knowledge to study specific topics in-depth as well. In the social sciences, he says, such an interdisciplinary approach may translate into a geographical breakdown.
"In the Humanities, we see cross-cutting affiliations from ethics to cultural criticism," he says, "and in the Sciences, faculty from many departments look to the excitements of genomics, of neuroscience, or of imaging."
Colton says that tension is not the best way to describe the relationship between the centers and the academic departments.
"The departments are definitely primary and they should be since they are responsible for things like undergraduate education and Ph.D. training," he says. "The centers are in a world that is still dominated by disciplines as it should be."
Others point out that these regional study centers are merely another layer among many at Harvard.
"Undergrads have their worlds which are quite busy," says Galen Amstutz, Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies coordinator. "There are other worlds of more complicated research and esoteric levels of study--not that they don't have access to those centers, but they are busy."
Sharing public space will allow the different groups to learn from each other and make student involvement easier. It will also benefit the individual centers.
"We need to reinforce existing centers," says President Neil L. Rudenstine. "Connecting them was a very deliberate decision."