Less than seven years after the faculty voted to form the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences from the old Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences, SEAS has exhibited remarkable growth. In the past year alone, the number of undergraduate concentrators at SEAS has grown by 20 percent. Some concentrations, like computer science, have more than doubled in the past five years. At the end of the 2011 fiscal year, SEAS brought in $44.6 million for sponsored research, up nearly 21 percent from 2008.
SEAS has shown incredible potential to bring in students and sponsor research, and now it needs room to grow. SEAS Professor David A. Weitz told The Crimson earlier this month that “SEAS is crowded, there’s no space. We can’t do research, we can’t teach.” Meanwhile, Harvard has left undeveloped land and a halted construction project in Allston. The University’s plan to move SEAS across the river will give SEAS the space it needs to prosper while revitalizing Allston.
The SEAS expansion gives Harvard the opportunity to make good on its promise not to abandon Allston. Harvard’s troubled relationship with the Allston community is due in large part to the abandoned and changing plans left in the wake of the halted Allston Science Complex construction project. The new facilities that will support SEAS have the potential to breathe new life into the area. Hundreds, if not thousands, of students, faculty, and support staff will come to Allston on a daily basis, and new shops and restaurants will spring up to serve them. Harvard initiatives including the Innovation Lab and Education Portal in Allston have already created a model for long-term, mutually beneficial relationships between Harvard and the Allston community.
Yet for all the potential this move has, the University needs to resolve serious logistical issues before a single brick is laid. It would take over half an hour to walk from the Radcliffe Quad to the site of the proposed development. The shuttle from Allston to Harvard Square takes at least ten minutes. How would a student with an 11 a.m. class in Allston make it to class in the Yard by 12:07 p.m.? What happens to the professors who regularly collaborate in person, both formally and informally, with their Faculty of Arts and Sciences colleagues?
The move to Allston is an opportunity that comes with great risks. At a minimum, moving SEAS to Allston will more than double the physical span of the undergraduate campus. If Harvard can crack the problem of collaboration across distances and unifying a campus spread out across a long distance, the move will be a success. A student in an engineering class should not have to factor in extra time to go to or return from class. The true measure of success for students and faculty will be whether it is feasible, through enhanced shuttle schedules or other transportation options, to go from a class in Harvard Yard to a class in Allston in seven minutes.
These challenges cannot be taken lightly. SEAS faculty are angry that they have not been consulted on the move, and the University has taken the position that the logistical issues can be sorted out later. That position, however, neglects that the logistical issues will dictate the success or failure of this move. We are excited that SEAS will have the opportunity to grow and innovate in a new space across the river, but it will be a pyrrhic victory if SEAS becomes isolated as a result.