Recent revelations that Harvard has quietly begun fundraising for a capital campaign have prompted speculation on the extent and direction such a program would take. By nature, capital campaigns often do not go public until a significant amount of the money has already been raised. This period, known as the “quiet phase,” allows the university to evaluate its fundraising strength as well as discern projects for which donors have a particular appetite. The latter aspect of this phase is significant in that it means that a capital campaign lacks a clear focus before it is formally announced, but recently administrators and donors have said that the primary focus is raising money for the upcoming House Renewal project. Rebuilding the Allston community, which was left partially desolate in the wake of the delayed Science Complex Project, while still important, is further down on the list of capital campaign priorities.
The House Renewal project represents the sort of forward thinking that Harvard needs to survive and thrive in the years to come. Not only are many Harvard houses falling into disrepair, but some of them even violate existing fire and safety codes. However, the present flaws of the housing system exceed the scope of safety or comfort; Harvard’s housing system no longer fits the ever-evolving concept of life in a residential setting. The sense of community that is currently absent from many of the antiquated houses is a problem that Harvard needs to tackle head on, and this project is a positive step towards achieving that goal.
Harvard University’s decision to undertake this campaign is positive and progressive, but its vision should not be as inward-looking as it currently is; although the capital campaign should include internal improvements, it must prioritize above all else resuming development on the Allston campus and restoring the local community.
The Harvard community is by no means insular. While the institution may only technically educate those within its gates, Harvard still plays an important role in much of the Greater Boston area. It may be a private institution, but it is a private university with a public persona and an even larger public obligation. For years, Harvard has involved itself in the Allston community for the worse, in ways that are far more tangible and much more profound than the problems that the House Renewal project seeks to correct. Given that the stalled plans across the river have negatively affected the health of the community the professional lives of many Allston residents, Harvard has a responsibility to finish this project as soon as the resources become available; to do otherwise not only projects an image of apathy towards the plight of Allston residents, but also establishes the precedent that failed projects adversely affecting communities are acceptable. Relations with much of the Allston community have soured, and a capital campaign in which Allston renewal was a conspicuously absent goal would only further exacerbate an already tense relationship.
For clarity, when comparing the Allston and House Renewal projects, we are not advocating the priority of one project to the detriment the other. Little is worth putting the long-term safety of students at risk, and in the event that the actualization of the Allston plan would necessitate the continuance of unsafe or illegal conditions for students, we would condemn such a decision. However, we see any argument suggesting that prioritizing Allston will adversely affect students as creating a false dichotomy; House Renewal can still continue even while Harvard centers the mission of its capital campaign on completing its Allston projects.
Furthermore, it would be disingenuous to characterize a focus on Allston as merely a means to make amends to a blighted community. The scuttled Science Complex project was conceived for scholastic reasons, and it would have served as the culmination of an academic paradigm shift meant to propel Harvard’s applied science programs into a future of competitiveness with schools like Stanford and MIT. This is a laudable mission, and one not worth abandoning.
There is no reason that the capital campaign cannot have both internal and external ends, but the Allston community must take precedence.