HKS Social Space Cut Draws Concern

CORRECTION APPENDED

Students returning to the Harvard Kennedy School are raising concerns about a reduction in student social space, after the Hauser Center for Non-Profit Organizations moved this summer into an area once designated as a student commons.

The Hauser Center, which serves the entire university, moved from its former office at The Charles Hotel into Town Hall, a space that HKS students previously used to study, collaborate on projects, and socialize.

The shift produced student concerns that they may no longer have a common space, evinced in a resolution passed by the Student Government near the end of the spring term and a critical student editorial in The Citizen, the school newspaper.

“The move gives students more access to the Hauser Center, but the trade-off is losing a valuable piece of public unprogrammed space,” said HKS student Ryan M. Androsoff who is in his second year of the Masters in Public Policy (MPP) program, adding that much of the student body was surprised when the change was announced.

According to David E. Baumwoll who graduated from the MPP program this year and authored the Student Government resolution, the loss of Town Hall was one of the biggest issues on campus last year. [SEE CORRECTION BELOW]

“Student space is always an issue at HKS,” he said, adding that he expected it to remain salient this fall.

Administrators have said that public space will still be accessible to students.

“I don’t think we really eliminated Town Hall. What we did was renovate it and try to make it more functional,” said Executive Dean John A. Haigh.

Although students found out about the move in the spring, it had been planned more than a year before that, according to Haigh. On the advice of a consulting firm that interviewed students, faculty, and staff before making its recommendation, HKS decided to transform Town Hall from what Haigh characterized as a “not-very-comfortable lecture hall” into a conference room and classroom with high-end technology. The goal, he said, was to bring academic and research facilities closer to the main campus for increased interaction with the student body.

Hauser Center Executive Director Aviva L. Argote said the refurbished space would be available to students from 4 p.m. until its closing at 11 p.m., which she called ideal because the Forum—the school’s central student space—often closes at 4 p.m. for special events such as distinguished speakers. Argote also said administrators and students engaged in dialogue about the shift after it was announced, and student suggestions and preferences for the space were considered. As a result of those discussions, the space now has mobile tables to facilitate group studying and acoustical adjustments in the walls to prevent echoing in the room, among other student-oriented features.

Some students were disappointed about the loss of individual mailboxes that were previously located in Town Hall, a convenience that let them receive course materials such as problem sets and homework.

But students and administrators alike said that the heart of the issue seems to be communication. And all voiced a desire to continue the dialogue in the fall.

“I think what happened with Town Hall really struck a chord with a lot of people that in general we want administrators to do a better job in communicating with students,” Androsoff said. “I think we started that process...our real hope is that this year we can strengthen that and institutionalize it so that students get to be a part of the decision-making process.”

—Staff writer Niha S. Jain can be reached at njain@fas.harvard.edu.

CORRECTION

The Aug. 31 news article "HKS Social Space Cut Draws Concern" incorrectly referred to Harvard Kennedy School student David E. Baumwoll as a graduate of the Masters in Public Policy program. In fact, Baumwoll is in his second year of the program.