A $10 Million Science Center Headache

WHEN I CAME TO Harvard two years ago, I picked up a map of the campus from the Information Office in Holyoke Center and wandered around trying to match buildings with names on the map. When I got to the area around Memorial Hall, I noticed a big ditch about the size of a baseball diamond. "Lawrence Hall," my map told me was the name of the hole.

A couple of months later I found out that Lawrence Hall had burned down during the Spring of 1970 and that the big ditch was going to become an Undergraduate Science Center. Six years ago the site was entirely different. An often-clogged intersection, where Kirkland St., Cambridge St. and Broadway converged sat just outside the back gates of the Yard. By 1967 the Cambridge St. Underpass was built, Kirkland St. was cut off at its current length and a grassy field was formed where the intersection had been.

Now the character of that grassy field has changed radically. Now the largest building that the Harvard campus has ever seen stares down on the field and surrounding area in completed form.

Something like the Science Center has been in the works since 1939 when President Conant launched a program aimed at improving instruction in the sciences for undergraduates. The program went well with Conant's earlier idea of General Education every undergraduate should be educated in the principals and methods of the sciences as part of an overall knowledge of thought and culture.

The Science Center is a direct outgrowth of Conant's ideas of the thirties. And to many members of the Harvard community these ideas, as well as the Science Center, seem outmoded and no longer valid. The controversy reached so high a pitch that in 1969. Franklin L. Ford, then dean of the Faculty, issued a public statement defending the Science Center, entitled "A Program for Science in Harvard College: Why it Must Succeed." Ford said, "The Science Center stands in the very middle of our planning, both as a badly needed physical facility and as a symbol of the educational values we are seeking to advance."


"So much is at stake," Ford continued, "not only for Harvard but for the whole conception of collegiate education in our time and of the tasks awaiting educated men and women, that not to succeed must be rejected as unthinkable."

But Ford was up against considerable resistance and lacking in the support the sciences had enjoyed a few years earlier. The Cold War, post-Sputnik boom had worn off and along with it gushing Federal funding for scientific research had dried up into a trickle. Student interest was moving steadily away from the sciences and science Ph.D.s. who only five years before had to fight off job offers, now had to fight off unemployment.

At the same time, faculty members in the sciences were raising objections to the very idea of an Undergraduate Science Center. The educational gains to be gotten--reserving an area especially adapted for undergraduates, where they would have lab space free of intervening researchers--seemed to some to be outweighed by the educational costs. If a center was given to undergraduates, there would be no learning from nearby graduate students or sharing in the process of original research. Professors would only be there on a visiting basis, going in and out for lectures and a few scattered office hours per week. "It could become an enormous Burr Lecture Hall, with no life of its own," one biology teacher acknowledged.

The greatest opposition to the Center has come from members of the Biology Department, but the reason for this opposition is on a wholly different level than the educational reasons often cited. Biology's qualms are twofold. First, the biologists don't like the Science Center because it is far away from their normal research labs. The headquarters of the Biology Department are currently located at the end of Divinity Avenue, a good quarter mile from the Science Center. Aside from exacerbating the problem of separated research and teaching facilities, the distance poses problems for the transportation of delicate cultures and other preparations that can only be produced in the advanced laboratories of the main Bio Labs building.

The biologists are also more than a little piqued because plans for another building devoted purely to Biochemistry were scrapped and the Science Center was built instead. Biology and Biochemistry are the only two fields that have enjoyed continual growth in student interest throughout the sixties. The reason behind this growth is the great increase in the number of undergraduates preparing for medical school. Currently, 40 per cent of all students in the College are fulfilling pre-med requirements and the figure is expected to rise to 50 per cent within two years.

The greatest area of need in scientific facilities thus lies in Biology and the related field of Biochemistry. The biologists know this, and are peeved that the biochemistry building planned for them had to be incorporated into the Science Center.

The reason for scrapping plans for the biochemistry building was money. The project required some $6.6 million, which just didn't appear. In fact, with the economic decline, little money at all was appearing. But at least one industry--the Polaroid Corporation--was hardly affected by the recession and its president. Edwin H. Land, still had plenty of money on hand. So much so that at Commencement in June 1968. Land gave the University an anonymous lump-sum donation of $12.6 million earmarked specifically for the construction of an Undergraduate Science Center. With the addition of the interest accruing on Land's gift plus another miscellaneous $4 million in contributions, the Science Center was ready to become a reality. In the frenzied elation of the times, the complaints of the biologists easily passed unheeded.

BUT THE BIOLOGISTS are not the only people who are less than thrilled by the Science Center. Anyone who has suffered financially from cutbacks in the Faculty's budget is likely to look upon the Science Center as a symbol and source of economic woes. For although the entire cost of building the enormous structure came solely from capital amassed from contributions outside of the Faculty budget, the yearly upkeep of the building--expected to total about $1 million--will come exclusively from the Faculty budget.

Although $1 million doesn't seem like much compared with the overall Faculty total of $100 million annually, the effect of the increase will be great. Richard G. Leahy, assistant dean of the Faculty for Resources and Planning, said that the $1 million figure represents a "very appreciable increase" and is likely to double the Faculty's deficit. And the Faculty, which--unlike the Federal government--cannot continue to run a lasting deficit, has to find a way to make up for the new debt. Leaky said that this money will be obtained through a "general trimming down" of Faculty expenditures--most likely in areas like Buildings and Grounds rather than teaching fellows' salaries. The greatest part of the cost of the upkeep of the Science Center comes from heating, exhaust and other mechanical expenditures--things which can't be cut back on if the building is to be used. The Science Center itself will thus bear little if any of the increased cost it will bring upon the Faculty.

The Science Center faces other problems and other problems and other sources of disgruntlement, one of which in the large number of students who appear displeased by the very presence of this immense newcomer to the campus. Some feel that its broad lines and vast scale clash with the more staid and soft-spoken surroundings. Others simply find it ugly, or share a common distaste for anything more modern than the simple, old brick structures of the Yard.