A Tale of Two Worlds

Harvard employees living in Allston experience two sides of a heated debate

Having lived his whole life on the same side of North Harvard Street in Allston, former Harvard employee Robert W. Alexander takes pride in his neighborhood.

“I live with the trash, and the rats, and the students,” Alexander says. “That’s my home, and I love it.”

With a foot in both the Harvard and Allston-Brighton communities, Alexander has had a front-row seat to the drama of tensions building between his neighborhood and the University over the past year, following the decision to halt construction indefinitely on the Allston Science Complex in December.

Allston residents like Alexander, comprising roughly 5 percent of Harvard’s workforce, are caught in the middle of an ongoing debate to which they bring a more nuanced perspective due to their involvement on both sides.

“I’ve attended a lot of the Task Force meetings, you know, it’s like Harvard consultants and lawyers sit on one side of the room and the community sits on the other,” says native Allstonian Paula M. Alexander—a staff assistant at Harvard Business School who has worked at the University for over 30 years and is married to Robert.

But employees from Allston say that the professed antagonism between the two sides understates the complexity of perspectives and is unlikely to be productive.

“It’s easy for an individual to point fingers at a large institution without understanding the University’s perspective, but it may also be helpful for University planners to walk a mile in local shoes,” says one Allston employee who wished to remain anonymous to protect his relationship with his employer and neighbors.

A GOOD EMPLOYER

Allston residents working for the University say in interviews with The Crimson that they have been impressed with Harvard as their employer, and many emphasize an affection for the University.

Robert Alexander notes that Harvard and Allston have coexisted for many years, and he himself first crossed paths with the University during his childhood.

Growing up next door to Harvard, he fondly remembers going to the fields surrounding Harvard Stadium to ride on a tractor with a University groundskeeper affectionately known as “Farmer Bob.”

“I’d go down there because it was beautiful,” he reminisces. “It was agrarian,” he adds, chuckling.

More recently, residents have complained that the University has shut them out of the decision-making process regarding its future expansion into the neighborhood, criticizing Harvard for abandoning the Science Complex—once hailed as a mecca of cutting-edge research—and for failing to convert Western Avenue into a vibrant “Main Street,” as promised.

But these issues are largely separate from what employees acknowledge as the tangible benefits of working for Harvard.

“I’m happy to work here—I’ve been able to support my family with this job,” Quincy House plumber Robert J. Kearney says. “Some guys on the outside [who are not employed by the University] go for months without work.”

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