Ec Department Wary of Coming Fogg

Plans to move the Fine Arts Library into Littauer irks some Faculty members

Unnamed photo
Christopher Kwok

The Littauer Library will house the Fogg’s Fine Arts Library during the museum’s renovation. This has delayed plans to refurbish and expand Littauer to accomodate offices and classrooms for the Economics Department.

Today it’s a decrepit basement with library stacks propping up the ceiling, signs warning of asbestos, and wiring and piping dating back to the 1930s. But in the eyes of Economics Department Chair James H. Stock, the dreary Littauer Library soon could be much more: the site of spacious classrooms and graduate offices as well as a new home for nomadic economics concentrators and their far-flung professors.

The dream will have to wait.

An upcoming renovation of the Fogg Art Museum has put Stock’s hope for a re-born Littauer Center on hold, possibly for the next 15 years. The Fogg’s Fine Arts Library will move into the Littauer basement, now the home of a little-used economics library, for an anticipated eight years beginning next September. Economics faculty members fear that Harvard College Libraries may continue to use the space for years to follow.

The change in course has left professors in Harvard’s largest concentration bewildered. Some fear an art-book “invasion,” and others say they feel ill-treated by Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) leaders.

“I used to keep the plans on my office wall,” Stock said in an interview. “Why did I take them down? Because it’s too depressing.”

The Littauer controversy marks the second time in three years in which library expansion has prompted complaints from students and professors. In 2004, student leaders urged administrators to build a student center on newly purchased Harvard property at 90 Mt. Auburn St. The site now houses a library administration building and a center for archival preservation.

A BUILDING DEFERRED

Planning for the renovation of gray-columned Littauer—located just west of the Science Center—began in the early 1990s, according to economics professors. Representatives from the economics department and the FAS Office of Physical Resources and Planning met at least 20 times with architects from Kallmann McKinnell & Wood—the firm behind Boston City Hall as well as buildings at the Law and Business Schools—professors said. Stock said that $100,000 to $200,000 were spent on the planning.

In summer 2005, the Department of Government, which had previously shared Littauer with Economics, moved into its new $140 million home, CGIS, on Cambridge Street. Economics professors had hoped that they would be next to receive the Faculty’s bounty. The renovation would have cost a third of CGIS’ final price tag, Stock said.

“It was a brilliant design,” Lee Professor of Economics Claudia Goldin said in an interview. She was one of four members of the economics department who worked on the plans.

But by that summer, word of a looming FAS budget deficit had begun to emerge from University Hall.

Last February, University Art Museums announced that the Fogg would be shuttering along with other aging museums for renovations. Faced with the task of finding a place for the museums’ multi-billion-dollar collections, then-Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby told Stock that the plans for renovating Littauer would not be going forward—and that the Fine Arts Library would be moving in.

Kirby, the Geisinger professor of history, wrote in an e-mail yesterday that the entire University shared common goals “in aspiring to a long-overdue renovation of the Fogg.”

“The Provost and I worked hard with the Department, the Fogg, and the Library to try to find the best of a set of alternative solutions,” Kirby said, referring to the Department of the History of Art and Architecture.

It will cost $3 to $4 million to renovate Littauer Library to accommodate oversized fine arts books, according to Stock.

A spokeswoman for the Harvard College Library, Beth Brainard, declined to provide details on the cost of the renovation or the length of the fine arts books’ stay in Littauer, saying that plans were still not final.

Linda Snyder, the associate executive dean for physical resources and planning, said the process of choosing a temporary home for the Fine Arts Library was “a consultative one with a decision eventually made by the Dean and Provost.”

“Not everybody’s happy with it,” she said. “We’re looking forward to make that a process which impacts the economics faculty and students as little as possible.”

Over Thursday departmental lunches and in the corridors of Littauer’s second floor, Stock and his colleagues talked informally about the plan over the last calendar year.

THE ‘SNOW-BALLING EFFECT’

Art historians based in the Arthur M. Sackler Museum said they understood their colleagues across the Yard.

“I do sympathize deeply with the economics department,” Chair of History of Art and Architecture Thomas B.F. Cummins said. “I understand their concern and I would be equally concerned in their place.”

According to Cummins, the way that his colleagues use their library—they depend on immediate access to a large number of images and slides—differs from how other professors conduct research.

“Our need for a library in proximity is as great or greater than any department that I know of. If you ask art historians from throughout the country, I think they would agree as well,” he said.

The Fogg, which opened in 1895, has never been renovated, Cummins said.

For Cummins, the Fine Arts Library’s uneasy future represents the challenges of a university struggling with growth, limited space, and administrative uncertainty.

“This is one of these instances where you can see the snow-balling effect of something else on something else on something else.”

BOOKS AND BULLDOZERS

Many economics concentrators appeared to be unfamiliar with the fine arts books’ impending arrival.

Saying they had not yet heard the news, Co-Presidents of the Harvard Undergraduate Economics Association Hoppy M. Maffione ’08 and Christopher R. Suen ’08 declined to comment for this story.

Professor of Economics Susan C. Athey—newly arrived from Stanford University—said that undergraduates should be involved in the planning.

“Economics undergraduates already suffer from high student-faculty ratios. They deserve the commitment of resources from the University that allows them to have as much faculty interaction as possible, given the inherent limitations of a large major,” Athey said.

The change in plans also caught professors by surprise.

“I don’t think people believe this is for real. This is like someone saying The Gap is going to open a store on the first floor of Littauer. Does this make any sense at all?” Goldin said.

“There have been countless moments in history of this nation and others when human bodies have blocked bulldozers from coming into buildings,” she added, suggesting that their disbelief might soon motivate professors to action.

According to Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles, it may be premature for economists to start manning the barricades.

“I hope that we shall know more by mid-to-late February, about the possibilities” Knowles wrote in an e-mail. He added that “conceivable alternatives are still being sought, even though I’m told that none is especially promising.”

‘INVADED BY THE FOGG’

In the eyes of economics professors, the Fine Arts Library’s move will set many of the department’s pedagogical goals back for at least a decade.

“With the departure of the economics library,” Stock said, “there really is no good reason for undergraduates to come here other than once a semester to get their study cards signed or to attend formal office hours with faculty members.”

Economists, who just a year ago were hoping to transform their aging building into a state-of-the-art center for learning and research, now say they’ll be even worse off after the long-awaited renovation.

“If they weren’t going to renovate it, let us be in our quarters with the rats in the basement, then we would just deal with and be a little peeved, but why are we being invaded by the Fogg?” Goldin said. “Now, I love the Fogg. I wish I could go there every day. I don’t really want the library in our building.”

The discourse in Littauer has taken on a revolutionary air.

Goldin said, “All we know is there is the person named Jim Stock who like Paul Revere is riding around saying, ‘The Fogg is coming. The Fogg is coming.’”

—Staff writer Samuel P. Jacobs can be reached at jacobs@fas.harvard.edu.