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Wilson's Report Harvard Can't Ignore the City


(Early last January, the Committee on the University and the City, chaired by James Q. Wilson, professor of Government, released some of its preliminary conclusions about the effect Harvard inevitably has on the town around it and the role Harvard must play in Cambridge affairs. In April, the Faculty approved the report's principles. Following are excerpts from the Wilson committee's recommendations.)

The University

The university--any university--has a distinctive competence, a special nature. That competence is not to serve as a government, or a consulting firm, or a polity, or a pressure group, or a family, or a kind of secularized church; it is to serve as a center of learning and free inquiry. Because of the devotion to learning, and a belief in the importance of ideas, people come together in universities; and it is an awareness, however dim and however cluttered by departmental and disciplinary boundaries, of that common devotion that makes the members of a university feel they are part of a community and not simply journeymen in some guild....

No institution of this size and with this purpose can be neutral about its environment. It should act vigorously to secure land, erect buildings, and shape events; it will impose, however laudable its intentions, its preferences on others who may not share them. If it should be passive and let events take their course, it will implicitly choose a certain kind of environment--one, perhaps, in which all Cambridge slowly becomes like Harvard and M.I.T. until we find that we are no longer an urban university, but one which has allowed there to grow up around itself a kind of inner-city suburb with a single life style, carried on by professors, students, psychiatrists and the executives of electronics and consulting firms. Perhaps that is the environment we wish to have, but we cannot pretend that we may remain neutral on the issue....

The Community

When we compare the urban environment of Harvard with that of certain other large universities, we find cause neither for smugness nor despair. The precincts of the university, both in Boston and Cambridge, touch on the neighborhoods of the poor, both black and white. The Personnel Office seeks to recruit employees from a labor force that contains many persons who, owing to inadequate education, lack of skills, or a steady exposure to the barriers of racial discrimination, are chronically unemployed or underemployed. Within walking distance of Harvard are public facilities -- schools, hospitals, and recreation areas--that are dilapidated, undermanned, and poorly equipped. Congestion and ugliness are not hard to find--they lie a dozen steps from the entrance to the Yard or to the Medical School.

We are concerned that problems exist, but we take hope from the fact that here, unlike some other cities, they do not seem insurmountable. Compared with universities in many of the largest cities, we find ourselves in an area with a relatively smaller stock of delapidated housing. The poor, black and white, are here in the tens of thousands, but not in the hundreds of thousands. Signs of vitality and change are evident in the centers of Boston and Cambridge, and people from all over the country and the world continue to come here and seek to live, not on the periphery, but in the center. Though blight occasionally and congestion frequently detract from its enjoyment, the visual environment is still among the most pleasing to be found anywhere. We can still say that people come to Harvard not in spite of its environment but partly because of it....

Harvard has responsibilities toward the Harvard and non-Harvard community, but these responsibilities are not best met by drawing up a list of "community problems" and then urging the President and Fellows to "do something." From time to time--as when a great civil rights leader is senselessly murdered--the instinct to act in this manner becomes almost irresistible. But it would be a mistake. Harvard cannot solve most of the problems that face us, nor can it always act collectively to make a contribution toward their solution. It is too easy to arouse false hopes and to stimulate unrealizable expectations. There have been many calls to action; those who issue them are often found, within a short time, returning to their private pursuits.

Further and perhaps most important, deciding what to do cannot be done by Harvard, or some part of Harvard, acting unilaterally. In every area to which this committee has turned its attention, there are already programs underway, organizations formed, spokesmen selected, conflicts apparent. Just as "the" community does not exist. We impinge upon many communities and some of them--perhaps most--are deeply suspicious of Harvard's intentions and capacities. No master plan for community development can or should be devised by Harvard alone, because any action requires first to work out, carefully and over time a subtle and complex set of relationships with existing organizations and existing programs.

University Organization

In almost every area to which our attention has turned, we have repeatedly encountered one fundamental problem: the absence of some central authority within the university that is fully equipped to respond to demands, anticipate problems, formulate policies, and co-ordinate university efforts with respect to matters that implicate the community. There is, in our opinion, no change more important than in improving the organizational capacity of the university to deal with its environment...

Specifically, the university is insufficiently staffed and inadequately organized to respond in a deliberate, timely, and constructive fashion to community demands. Such a response we suggest, is possible only if some central agency within the university is given the responsibility, status, and staff sufficient to speak authoritatively for the university on community matters....

We therefore propose that a new position--that of Vice President for External Affairs--be created, coequal in status and authority with the Administrative Vice President. The Vice President for External Affairs would have line authority over the Real Estate Office, the Planning Office, and the Office of Civic and Governmental Relations. In addition a new agency would be created and made responsible to the new Vice President--a clearing house for university-community affairs.

Real Estate, Housing

In sum, the real estate and housing policy of Harvard in Cambridge can be stated as follows: First, to acquire real estate only for educational purposes and not as an investment; second, to seek to provide housing for its faculty and students with minimum injury to the community; third, to expand vertically (with high-rise construction) rather than laterally (by new property acquisitions) wherever possible; and fourth, to remain within the area bounded by Garfield Street to the north and Putnam Avenue to the southeast. Additionally, the university has since 1928 made voluntary payments in lieu of taxes to that City of Cambridge on properties purchased and removed from the tax rolls. Of course Harvard continues to pay taxes on property not used for educational purposes....

We have no reason to believe that Harvard's record as a landlord is any worse than that of others, and some reason to believe it may be better. The owners and managers of real estate are rarely loved by their tenants, nor are they in a business that encourages the most benign and altruistic practices. The Committee is of the opinion, however, that average treatment is not good enough, especially in regard to tenants who are older or burdened with families. we are, and we are judged to be, an institution devoted to humanistic values, and thus accountable to higher standards of conduct than those which prevail among most business firms. And we are an institution especially vulnerable to tenant complaints that arouse the sympathy of members of the university. We believe, therefore, that especially enlightened real estate management and relocation practices are required....

We recommend that any future displacement of tenants be accompanied by adequate and timely relocation assistance, including ample notice when the lease is signed that relocation may be necessary, personal assistance in finding other living quarters, and the provision of the equivalent of at, least one month's rent to ease the financial burden of moving.

The larger housing question, however, cannot be solved by Harvard alone. Even the problem of relocation will become increasingly difficult as the inflation in Boston and Cambridge rents continues. Nor can the university's contribution to the easing of this problem, especially for older residents living on fixed incomes, be limited to constructing additional housing for Harvard faculty and graduate students. For it seems quite likely that the existence of such new facilities will not simply (if at all) take Harvard personnel out of the Boston or Cambridge housing markets and place them in university buildings, but will in addition lure back to Cambridge and Boston students and faculty now living in the suburbs. Furthermore, existing Harvard housing now occupied by graduate students (such as Peabody Terrace) cannot be opened to non-Harvard residents without substantially increasing rents (even assuming, implausibly, that displacing students in favor of others would solve either group's housing problem). Such student buildings are legally exempt from taxation, though voluntary payments to the city in lieu of taxes are now made. Admitting non-students would terminate the tax exemption, the property taxes to be paid would be larger than the present in-lieu payments, and rents accordingly would have to be raised.

Thus the proper role of the university, in our opinion, is both to increase the supply of housing available for its own faculty and students and to serve as a catalytic agents which will facilitate efforts to increase the local housing supply generally (especially the supply of publicly assisted housing for persons of low and moderate incomes). To these ends, we make the following recommendations:

(1) The university should aggressively seek out appropriate sites within Cambridge on which housing for faculty and students may be built. Wherever possible (and we believe that it is possible), these sites should not now be devoted to residential use. We wish to increase, not simply to redistribute, the supply of housing.

(2) The university should proceed with its plans to build approximately 120 units of faculty housing on the Shady Hill site, which it now owns.

(3) We recommend that Harvard join with M.I.T. and other interested groups in urging the City of Cambridge to develop a larger program for publicly assisted housing.... It is vital that the supply of low cost housing (especially for the elderly) and of moderate cost housing (for both faculty and community residents) be increased: this cannot be done without joint public-private efforts of a kind an dscale not yet attempted in the city.... We believe it is possible for the city and the universities to onnounce, after appropriate study, a joint program to add a certain number of housing units with a five or ten year program. We would like to see the university, as part of this joint program, reconsider whether it might become the sponsor of one or more federally assisted housing programs. The university already owns property along the Charles River that might be the site of a federally subsidized development open to both faculty and non-Harvard citizens.

Hiring Policies

The first requirement is for Harvard, at the highest level, to adopt a comprehensive, affirmative, and specific personnel policy directed especially at the question of recruiting, hiring, training, and promoting of disadvantaged workers. Here, as elsewhere, action has been in response to pressure, but rarely in accord with any policy....

Second, as part of such a policy, the Personnel Office should inaugurate a vigorous and continuing program of recruitment in the poorer neighborhoods (black and Spanish-American) where barriers of discrimination over-laid by the habits of defeatism make economic advancement particularly difficult. Local employment agencies in these areas should be regularly visited and kept well-informed as to job opportunities at Harvard.

Third, the Personnel Office should be encouraged to go forward with a program it now has under consideration for a pre-job and apprentice training program....

Fourth, the university should continue to explore, as it has during the past few months, the possibility of joining with other universities and other large employers in the Boston area to draft a joint agreement that would insure that contractors and trade unions serving those institutions have an affirmative policy toward the hiring of blacks.


We believe that there are additional opportunities for investments in the community that are within the legitimate educational interests of the university.... Unless Harvard is willing to see community residents increasingly angry at the pressures created by the university's presence and its necessary expansion in educational facilities, and unless Harvard is willing to see students and faculty increasingly joining in community protests intended to give expression to this anger, it will have to reconsider the extent to which its local investments ought to be increased and directed toward projects that serve both neighborhood and university interests. Specifically, we believe that it is in the educational interests of the university to seek out, actively, ways of increasing the supply of moderate income housing in those areas of Cambridge and Boston on which the university impinges....

At the same time, we recognize that there are limits on how far the university should go in this direction. It does not have the unrestricted funds to solve the housing problems of two large cities. And it is not clear that it would be wise, even if it were legal, for the university to spend its funds on the scores of community-improvement projects that have from time to time been recommended to its attention. The university, it is sometime said, should support "community projects" by helping finance consumer cooperatives, Negro businesses, local cultural programs, neighborhood organizations, school innovations, and the like. Many of these projects are worthy of support; some might even fall within the educational purposes of the university; a few might be carried out without forcing Harvard to choose among competing community claimants for Harvard funds. But we believe that, in general, it is a mistake to expect the Harvard Corporation (or the Treasurer) to act as a surrogate community chest; it lacks the resources, the legal power, and the administrative mechanism to play any such role....

The Treasurer of Harvard cannot and should not choose from among various community projects those on which he might wish (if he were authorized) to spend money given to Harvard for educational purposes. But the persons who ultimately receive that money--students, faculty, administrators, and employees--can and should make such contributions. The university should create a mechanism that would facilitate such giving. This Foundation should created, however, unless it is clear that student and faculty interest in it is strong. We hope that the discussion of this proposal among members of the university will serve as a measure of it probable success.

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