A Changing Clubhouse, a Changing Faculty

Professors look back on their personal haunt.

The Faculty Club: Then and Now
Nayab Ahmad, Radhika Jain, and Kevin J. Wu

Dean of the Extension School Michael Shinagel went to the Faculty Club for the first time when he was a graduate student, as a guest of late English professor Howard Mumford Jones.

Over lunch—a rare honor for Shinagel, as the Club was generally reserved for Harvard’s most senior echelon of faculty and administration—Jones outlined his vision for their work on a foundation together. “He said, ‘Michael, we will reign jointly like the two kings of Sparta,’” Shinagel recalls. “‘One to admire, and one to perform.’”

Shinagel smiles in his recollection of that first visit. He would eventually serve as a member of the Club’s Managing Board, its most recent president, and a member of the Advisory Board. Over “many a luncheon” at the Club’s renowned Long Table, he would woo new faculty members for the extension school, of which he has been dean since 1975. At the Club, he met visionaries and politicians, wined and dined his colleagues, and put up good friends in the guest rooms on the third floor.

And most recently, in early November, his son was married there in a ceremony with a minister, 60 guests, and a full brunch.

At his lunch with Shinagel so many decades ago, Jones finished his grandiose plan with a humorous—albeit poignant—one-liner. “‘I shall admire,’” he told Shinagel.

That conversation presaged Shinagel’s service to the University. But once a mainstay for the professor progressing through decades of a career at Harvard, the Club today is less likely to serve as the center of professorial social life.

Over time, it has opened its doors to new segments of Harvard’s community, and the nature of the faculty has changed. Once the professors’ clubhouse, the Faculty Club is no longer just the faculty’s club.

OLD MEETS NEW

In days past, women were confined to the Club’s “Ladies Dining Room.” Casual dancing for faculty members took place every Saturday evening. And in 1939, an entertainment committee was created to organize social events for the faculty members.

On a Saturday night 60 years later, the second floor of the Club is likely to be swarming with patrons dressed to the nines. The Faculty Club hosts close to fifty weddings a year, sometimes multiple in a weekend during the busy summer season. The groom might straighten his bow tie in Room Seven; the bride touches up her makeup and soothes her jitters in Room Ten.

On any other day during the school year, these same rooms will be set up for career fairs, company presentations, and community gatherings. On one fall afternoon, the Club hosts McKinsey and Co., the Boston Fulbright Committee, and Chabad House, its hand-painted walls now soaking in corporate and scholarly chatter and the prayers and aspirations of countless students.

One floor up, a dozen doors are flung open to reveal soft-lit chambers with the slanted roofs of a top floor and the small scale of another century; only the small flat-screen televisions set subtly against the paisley wallpaper betray a twenty-first century lodging. The maid says they are almost always booked, and the midday lull is anything but a lull for her as she scrambles to ready the rooms for a new stream of guests.

The basement, too, is empty. Just two years ago, the staff of the Theatre Room would have been bracing themselves for the lunchtime rush as professors dropped by for an inexpensive meal.

Sunlight streams into the conservatory of the Harvard Faculty Club, speckling the gold-embossed plates on the table and the fresh-flower arrangements every few place settings. Glasses and decanters gleam behind the bar, which serves not just fine wines but also Harvard’s Harpoon-brewed specialty beer called “1636.” Club staff wander in and out as they set up the Club’s three first-floor dining rooms for lunch-time buffet. Until 2 p.m., faculty members and their guests will trickle in for one of the fancier—and more expensive—lunch options in the area.

To the right lies the North dining room, once the “Ladies Dining Room,” currently set with tables for four.

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