Baring Harvard's Soul


Thy false uncle...was

The ivy which had had my princely trunk,

And suck'd my verdure out on't. --The Tempest

NOT SINCE candidate Ronald Reagan's unforgettable announcement that trees are America's leading source of air pollution has the plank kingdom dominated national headlines the way it did last week. In the course of planning the multi year $35-million renovation of the Houses that will begin this summer, Harvard administrators decided that the project will involve ripping down the ivy that has covered most of the buildings' walls for about a century. After the renovation; is over, officials said, not a leaf of the eponymous plant will remain on any House.

Furthermore, it began to appear likely that Harvard has no plans yet to replant the ivy when the Houses are all spruced up again-that, in fact, the ivy was partially responsible for the structural decay that prompted the massive renovation. The plant's tendrils, it seems, secrete a substance that slowly eats away at a wall's mortar and cement.


Among Harvard students, the proposed herbicide conjured up a future of inadequate nostalgia and provoked a level of outrage that has not seen its peer since the Rolling Stones cancelled their Boston concerts. A Student Assembly member called the ivy "one of the graver issues of our time" and tried to establish and ad hoc preservation committee. (He failed when someone noticed that the assembly did not have a quorum that night.)

A group of activists in Quincy House (the new half of which is ivy-free) were more successful in organizing disaffected plant-lovers, putting together a 20-member committee called "Save Harvard's Ivy Today" (the acronym presumably a reference to the life-giving properties of fertilizer). Saying, "the spirit of Harvard is in that ivy," the committee's co-chairman announced plans to stage a rally this Friday in front of John Harvard's (also ivy-free) statue.

Finally, Natasha Pearl '83, the Student Assembly chairman viewed the ivy crisis as the latest in a series of "absurd attempts" on the University's part to demonstrate fiscal prudence. Citing Harvard's hesitancy to build an addition to the Fogg Art Museum and the current discussion of revoking summer storage privileges as other such demonstrations, Pearl expressed concern that the logical next move will be an end to aid-blind admissions.

We do not choose to judge the University plans to slash down the ivy out of misguided budget-cutting or even lack of aesthetic appreciation for greenery. Surely administrators enjoy the sight of thick, flourishing ivy just as much as we do. Moreover, to borrow one official's famous sentiment, if the ivy does vanish, students will have to look at bare wills for only four years; deans will have to look at them for life. No, we are willing to believe that Harvard's leaders would not be taking out their clippers unless the ivy were seriously munching away at Harvard's walls.

But we do think that with a little imagination, administrators can find a way to renovate the Houses without engendering a groundswell of student dissent. In fact, reflecting on the newly identified destructive properties of ivy, one such plan has occurred to us, and we call on the University to carry it out at once. Why not uproot Harvard's ivy and transplant it (gingerly-remember the stuff dissolves cement at the touch) to walls more suited for the tendril's secretion; the Pentagon, the Yale Bowl, and the Lampoon Castle come quickly to mind. Harvard would thus keep the Houses from crumbling and at the same time comply with student's demands that the cherished ivy be saved. Who could ask for more?