Massachusetts Hall, the conveniently located, four-story Colonial at
the entrance to Harvard Yard, has been sold by the University—to the
In a bureaucratic quirk that makes sense only at Harvard, the
Faculty of Arts and Sciences will transfer ownership of the building
this year to the University’s central administration, according to two
people familiar with the sale.
The Faculty has long rented the first two floors of Mass. Hall
and parts of the third to the central administration for office space.
But in a deal arranged last year, the two sources said, the central
administration has agreed to pay a lump sum to the Faculty for control
of the entire building, including the upper floors where 22 freshmen
are housed each school year.
President Lawrence H. Summers is said to be planning to physically
expand the offices of the central administration, which has grown in
size and power under his tenure. That will entail eliminating some, if
not all, of the 11 dorm rooms in Mass. Hall, according to the two
sources, who requested anonymity because the arrangement has not been
publicly announced. They said they did not know if a schedule for the
expansion has been set.
[On Tuesday, a day after this article was published, John Longbrake, a
spokesman for Summers, issued the following statement: "FAS and the
central administration continue to have discussions regarding the
future uses of Massachusetts Hall. There has not been a sale of
Massachusetts Hall as reported in the Crimson. Discussions on this
topic will continue to focus on what the College thinks is in the best
interests of the students as well as administrative considerations."]
In an e-mail last night, Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71
wrote, “We have been looking at the viability of Massachusetts Hall as
a freshman dormitory, and exploring the possibility of moving students
to better space next year.” But he added that “nothing has been decided
The sale of Mass. Hall, while largely an administrative
shuffle, has aroused concern among some Faculty members for both its
emblematic and practical implications.
Informed of the plans this weekend, McKay Professor of
Computer Science Harry R. Lewis ’68, former dean of the College, wrote
in an e-mail, “I suppose different people may see different symbols in
that—students losing their places to administrative bureaucrats, the
College being swallowed up by the University, or maybe the FAS selling
an heirloom to pay the bills.”
The Faculty is running an annual deficit that is expected to
rise above $100 million by 2010. But the two people briefed on the sale
of Mass. Hall said that the move was prompted by the central
administration’s desire to expand its offices, not the Faculty’s budget
woes. Mass. Hall currently houses the offices of Summers, Provost
Steven E. Hyman, his seven vice presidents, and other senior staff.
The two sources said that Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby
was given little choice in approving the sale or the sale price, which
they both said was in “the low seven-digits.” Three members of the
Faculty Resources Committee declined to comment or did not return an
e-mail over the weekend.
The anomaly of one part of the University selling a building
to another part of the same university might seem curious to outside
observers. But it makes some, if not perfect, sense amid Harvard’s
decentralized financial structure, in which each school maintains its
own endowment and sets its own budget.
A spokesman for the president, John Longbrake, referred
questions yesterday to the Faculty. Bob Mitchell, a spokesman for the
Faculty, would not comment on the sale.
Brian T. Buce ’09, a resident of Mass. Hall, said he was not bothered by the loss of student dorm rooms in the building.
“If the central administration needs more offices, then it
makes sense to put them in Mass. Hall rather than move them to Thayer
or something,” he said.
Built in 1720 as a dormitory for 64 students, Mass. Hall is
the oldest surviving building on Harvard’s campus and the second oldest
academic building in the country. (The Wren Building at William &
Mary is the oldest.) Mass. Hall housed hundreds of Revolutionary
soldiers during the siege of Boston in 1775 and 1776.
—Anton S. Troianovski contributed reporting for this story.
—Staff writer Zachary M. Seward can be reached at email@example.com.