Navigating SEAS

We hope that the next University President provides the leadership critical for SEAS to reach its full potential

Ever since the announcement—by virtue of a magnanimous $400 million gift from John A. Paulson—of an expansion to Allston slated to begin in 2020, Harvard affiliates have observed the evolution of the up-and-coming School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. The school currently stands at a pivotal point in its history—straddling its past and present—and its leadership and that of the University are molding its future before our eyes.

For one, there have been various positive waypoints since the announcement of SEAS’s expansion to Allston. We have witnessed the recruitment of eight professors in 2015 and six new professors in 2017 with hopefulness. They will broaden the purview of research at Harvard, provide more opportunities for mentorship for undergraduates, and propel SEAS toward wider recognition. After all, it is the minds of students and academics that make Harvard into the school it is, rather than potential glitzy new campuses.

Nevertheless, buildings are indispensable, not because they are an end in and of themselves, but because it is apparent that SEAS’s current location is causing it considerable growing pains. SEAS affiliates have said that Pierce Hall—the current center of SEAS, built more than a century ago in 1901—is too cramped at the moment. This not only inconveniences current SEAS affiliates, but also impedes Harvard’s efforts to recruit and retain future faculty, highlighting the need for the new campus. Fortunately, it appears that, as of last month, construction has moved smoothly and is still on time, so SEAS affiliates will only need to face these constraints for only one more full academic year.

Not all of the news coming out of SEAS, however, has been positive. In the past fiscal year, of the $11.7 million deficit incurred by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, $9.1 million was due to the SEAS deficit. Though we are loath to shrug off University financial difficulties, we do also acknowledge—as argued by SEAS Dean Francis J. Doyle III—that the near coincidence of a financial crisis and the construction of a new campus are likely to pose unique challenges to SEAS’s coffers. We hope that this will not become a perpetual state of affairs, and we stress again the primacy of financial well-being to the University’s continued flourishing.

In light of the current strategic importance of SEAS’s position, we believe that the next University President should concentrate on sustaining SEAS’s growth. He or she must be attentive to the school’s needs and any hurdles it may face in expanding to the new campus. As argued by Computer Science professor Harry R. Lewis ’68, this does not mean that the next president must be an engineer. Current University President Drew G. Faust, a historian by training, has deftly shepherded the new campus into existence. If anything, a president without an engineering background will help to assure that SEAS pursues the University’s liberal arts mission to produce well-rounded graduates.

In sum, we believe that the future is bright for engineering at Harvard. If it continues along its current trajectory and fulfills its promise, Harvard and society at large will enjoy the innovation and technical prowess of SEAS engineers for many years to come.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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