Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith, Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds, and University President Drew G. Faust discuss social "common spaces" and secondary fields in Sever Hall on Sunday night, in an open panel discussion led by the Undergraduate Council.
At an unprecedented open forum Sunday night hosted by the Undergraduate Council, three top University administrators offered few concrete answers to student concerns about social spaces and other student life issues.
The meeting marked the first time that University President Drew G. Faust, Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds, and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith were all present at a UC meeting.
Discussion at the meeting was centered around two main issues—the creation of a student center and secondary fields—before the floor was opened for general questions for the final fifteen minutes.
Students present at the meeting expressed disappointment with the administrators’ responses to concerns regarding the creation of a student center.
During an interview with Charlie Gibson in Sanders Theatre in September of last year, Faust entertained the idea of transforming the lower floors of the Holyoke Center into a student center. But in her opening statement on the issue last night, Faust denied having publicly addressed the creation of a student center.
“I’ve actually never talked about a student center,” Faust said. “I’ve talked ever since I became President about what I’ve called ‘common spaces.’”
In responding to student concerns, Hammonds and Faust both repeatedly referenced the work carried out by the Committee on Common Spaces that recommended that the University make better use of available space in the Yard and in the Holyoke Center. Faust has acted on the committee’s recommendations to make better use of the Yard, installing the brightly colored chairs that have become a hallmark of the Yard during her administration. But besides the off-handed comment to Gibson, Faust has remained mum on plans for the Holyoke Center, and on Sunday both Faust and Hammonds were more inclined to embrace the committee’s recommendations in spirit rather than offer concrete plans on how to solve the problem of insufficient social space at Harvard.
Students remained persistent in their engagement on the issue at Sunday’s meeting, responding that social spaces on campus are too disjointed and expressing hopes for a single, centralized location for students to come together and socialize. Faust, however, shared a different vision.
“I want to contrast a ‘student center’ with what you might call a ‘campus center,’” she said. “There is a need for social spaces across the University, not just the College.”
“And my goal is to provide a context in which the entire University can come together more broadly,” Faust added later in a reference to the work of the Committee on Common Spaces.
Students said they were frustrated that Faust and her lieutenants declined to offer specific plans to build a student center.
“I was disappointed to find out that the leaders of the College do not even have a definitive plan moving forward for a student center,” said Spenser R. Goodman ’14, a UC representative for Cabot House. “The best they could do was deflect questions or just give vague, ambiguous answers and say that they were trying.”
Christopher H. Cleveland ’14, one of the students in attendance, shared similar frustrations.
“I came to this meeting because I realized that three important members of the administration were going to give what was hopefully an uncensored view,” he said. “But I am not sure I gained a sense of what will be changed, and the impression I got was that they are not sure what they are doing.”
With about 100 individuals attending the meeting, the audience represented a wide range of constituencies—including students, House Masters, faculty, staff, and directors of various centers on campus.
“So many people came with thoughtful questions and it just really goes to show that students and other campus members have a lot on their mind,” said UC President Senan Ebrahim ’12. “I think the meeting went really well, but in order to focus the discussion in the future, we will need to explore other avenues as well.”
—Staff writer Rachael E. Apfel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.