Faculty Council To Hear Allston Criticism Today

Letter by council member raises questions about plans, process

The Faculty Council will discuss concerns about the University’s vision for an Allston campus today, including those raised in a recent letter by one of its members criticizing several of the administration’s basic assumptions.

The letter, sent to the council on Nov. 10 by Welch Professor of Computer Science Stuart M. Shieber ’81, raises specific questions about the wisdom of splitting science facilities between two sides of the river as well as the rationale for leaving the Law School in Cambridge, according to professors who have seen it.

The letter also criticizes a perceived lack of transparency in the Allston planning process.

Last month, University President Lawrence H. Summers outlined a series of “planning assumptions” for a campus in Allston anchored by science facilities, housing and the Graduate School of Education.

Among the premises of the plan is that Harvard Law School will remain in Cambridge while some of the science departments of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) will move across the river.

Members of the council—a group of FAS professors who advise Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby—as well as the full Faculty have sharply questioned Summers and Kirby on Allston at several meetings this fall.

But as described, Shieber’s letter is one of the more concrete and detailed criticisms of the University’s plans to date.

Shieber could not be reached for comment last night, but one member of the council said the letter argued that there are dangers to moving parts of FAS science to Allston.

“The simple point he was making was that it’s not good to fragment things,” the council member said. “He used the analogy of carving at the joint as opposed to cutting at the bone.”

According to a faculty member who has seen the letter, Shieber wrote that some space-hungry science activities, such as life science labs, are in fact well-suited to Allston.

But Shieber countered that other facilities being discussed as candidates for a move would actually be harmed by such a step.

According to the faculty member, Shieber cited his own department—the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences—as an area with more undergraduate teaching responsibilities and fewer space needs that would be best served by staying in Cambridge.

Shieber also is said to have pointed out that even if large undergraduate science classes were still held in the Science Center, the scheduling of smaller classes in Allston would be disruptive to students’ lives. He estimated that if all science classes of fewer than 20 students were to be held on the planned campus, it would require students to make more than 200,000 cross-river hikes annually, the faculty member said.

The letter also questioned why moving Harvard Law School (HLS) has been taken off the table.

Some have suggested that it would be too difficult and costly to adapt the existing HLS buildings for other uses. But Shieber’s letter dismisses that argument, stating that the expense would represent only a small fraction of the overall cost of building the new campus.

Several faculty members who read the letter said it also picked up on concerns voiced by other professors in recent months that the University administration has not been open enough about plans for Allston and science.

“The letter just raises some general issues...about actual decisions getting way ahead of what the Faculty are being told has been decided,” said one professor.

According to a member of the council, “a fair amount of faculty” feel the University is moving ahead too fast with plans for Allston.

Professor of the History of Science Everett I. Mendelsohn, a member of the council, said he expected today’s discussion to revolve around similar concerns to those raised at recent Faculty meetings.

At last week’s meeting, Professor of German Peter J. Burgard asked Summers whether the Faculty would be given an opportunity to vote on Allston plans.

Summers replied that decisions of that nature are reserved for the University’s governing boards.

“I know that many members of the Faculty are particularly concerned that discussion about what happens in Allston be widely examined within the Faculty as a whole and that there be a real mode of consultation between the Faculty and those who make the decisions,” Mendelsohn said yesterday. “I think this is an important issue since this will affect the future of the University for decades to come.”

Cabot Professor of the Natural Sciences Douglas A. Melton, a member of the task force that will plan the future of science in Allston, said last night that he had not seen Shieber’s letter and was not aware of specific worries within the Faculty.

“Whenever you talk about moving, people are going to be concerned,” he said. “I haven’t heard any specific concerns.... Nor have I heard any specific [Allston] plans.”

Assistant Professor of Biology Kathleen Donohue, a member of the council, also said it was too soon to comment on the plans.

“It’s really hard to have a reaction to the plans because we don’t really know what the plans are yet,” she said.

She added that Allston might represent a key frontier for expansion.

“Having more space for science facilities is a wonderful thing,” she said. “It’s very difficult to find any more in Cambridge, so there’s a lot of opportunity there.”

—Staff writer Stephen M. Marks contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff writer Jessica R. Rubin-Wills can be reached at rubinwil@fas.harvard.edu.