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RELATIONS BETWEEN Harvard and the City of Cambridge have been as cold as the weather in the past few weeks. Charging Harvard with arrogance and insensitivity, the Cambridge City Council has taken the offensive in the continuing struggle between the University and the community. Unless Harvard changes its tactics and begins to consult and compromise with the city about matters affecting both, the situation will certainly get worse.
The council's Monday night vote, which overturned an earlier decision and sets up new zoning regulations for Harvard Square, typifies the reasons for current tensions.
City Councilor Mary Ellen Preusser announced she was "fed up" with the University, and filed the motion which passed Monday night. It challenges the constitutionality of the seventh vote rule and establishes the new zoning requirement for the Square. The affair obviously did not have to turn into the brouhaha that it became. The University would have had ample opportunity for consultation if it had any channels of communication open with the city.
The zoning dispute is only one gripe in a litany of city complaints against the University. Six city councilors, including the mayor of Cambridge, Thomas W. Danehy, fired off a letter late last month to members of the Board of Overseers, asking for their help in "reducing the tensions" between the city and the University.
"Harvard representatives have demonstrated consistent poor judgement and insensitivity in making decisions," the letter charged, citing as examples the recent zoning proposal, as well as scheduled evictions of tenants from Harvard-owned buildings and a faculty mortgage-loan program city officials fear will dry up available housing.
Harvard officials say they are now trying to set up a dialogue with the city--something that should have been done long ago. Cambridge residents deserve to be consulted on matters that affect their daily lives, and the consultation should be more than just press releases. Harvard administrators should be willing to offer compromises and to negotiate to find the best way to achieve the goals of both the University and the people of Cambridge.
TWO isolated instances in the past week have shown that such compromise is possible. University officials announced they are considering a compromise with tenants scheduled to be evicted from apartments on Mellon and Sumner Streets. Maurice D. Kilbridge, dean of the Faculty of Design, said the tenants had suggested the compromise plans his staff is looking at. The consultation between city and school, it seems, can be workable, and effective.
Despite the promising start, considering compromise is a long way from taking action, and two apartment buildings are far from the only battlefields in the city's fight with Harvard. The pattern of consultation and compromise needs to be made a regular policy and to be used in every matter that affects both Harvard and Cambridge.
"The University is here forever," Dean Rosovsky remarked not long ago. So, too, is Cambridge, and in the interest of making the future peaceful and constructive, the two should start working together.
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