A brand new, state-of-the-art, 500,000-square foot science complex will be the first seed of Harvard’s new campus in Allston. If all goes according to plan, it will eventually be joined by new athletics facilities, undergraduate houses, space for culture and the arts, two professional schools, and many more academic buildings. Developing Allston will take half a century and billions of dollars to complete.
It would be a shame if Allston was only used by a select few and became a secondary campus split from the rest of Harvard. As part of the effort to avoid this, the buildings in Allston are intended to be University-wide facilities, and almost all of the new buildings will include space for teaching undergraduates. Yet there remain concerns about the undergraduate presence in Allston because it could be difficult for students to get there. Harvard College already stretches from Eliot to CGIS and from Mather to the Quad; some argue that spreading the College across the river will simply stretch it too much. Despite the distance, however, we support holding some undergraduate classes in Allston because, in addition to giving undergraduates access to exciting new facilities, doing so will integrate the Allston and Cambridge campuses in a way few other things can.
If Harvard Yard remains the center of campus for undergraduates, the Allston campus and Houses will be little more than a satellite, much like the Quad. Integrating the Allston and Cambridge campuses will require students to cross the river on a regular basis. The Allston Houses, athletic facilities, professors’ labs and office hours, and performing arts centers will play an important role in bringing over certain segments of the undergraduate population.
It is essential, however, that Allston becomes home to more than the athletes, actors, pre-meds, and residents sent there in the House lottery. Holding classes in Allston will give students a reason to go to the Allston campus on a regular basis, and will make the location of the proposed student center, across the Larz-Andersen Bridge, a central locale—which is critical to the student center’s success.
The distance between the Allston science complex and Harvard Yard is a serious concern. The current seven minutes between classes is barely sufficient for students to walk across the Yard, let alone from one side of the river to the other. For this reason, the current plan is for morning classes to remain near Harvard Yard, while some afternoon sections, labs, and seminars would be held in the Allston facilities. In the afternoon, students are more likely to have more time to get to their classes and to already be nearer the Allston campus, either in the Allston Houses, student center, or athletic and performing arts facilities. This is an important consideration, as we do not want a class’s Allston location to deter students from taking it.
Convenient transportation will be essential to making classes in Allston feasible. As we have argued before, the shuttles between Allston, the river Houses, and the Yard need to be frequent, fast, stop in convenient locations, and run all day long. These shuttles will serve a dual role: connecting Allston Houses to the Cambridge campus and connecting undergraduates in Cambridge to the Allston campus to get students to their afternoon sections, seminars, and labs that are being planned in Allston. If transportationin either direction—by shuttle, foot, or bike—is inconvenient, the Allston campus will suffer.
For the Allston expansion to be a success for undergraduates, students need to be able to fully take advantage of the Allston campus. Provided that transportation is convenient, holding afternoon sections, seminars, and labs in Allston, will bring undergraduates to Allston, allowing them to take advantage of the University’s investment and critically integrating the two campuses.