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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

Married to Mother Earth

By Ira E. Stoll, Crimson Staff Writer

When Sen. Albert W. Gore Jr. '69 (D-Tenn.) visited Harvard last month on a drizzling Friday night, his talk on the environment drew a standing-room-only crowd of undergraduates.

It was a testament to the growing ecological consciousness of America's young people. No surprise, really. The phenomenon of school kids bothering their parents about recycling is not new. The crowd of college students was a post-pubescent manifestation of the same spirit.

The real surprise at the Gore speech, however, was not the youthful crowd sitting in the aisles, but the powerful administrators sitting in the front row. Provost-designate Jerry R. Green, Dean of the Faculty and Arts and Science Jeremy R. Knowles, Dean of the Medical School Daniel C. Tosteson '44 and School of Public Health Dean Harvey V. Fineberg '67 all attended the same lecture that was brimming with undergraduates.

That was a testament to the growing ecological consciousness of the upper echelons of the University.

"The level of the commitment by the administration her is quit extraordinary," says Rotch Professor of Atmospheric Science Michael b. McElroy, who chairs the University-wide committee on Environmental Studies authorized in March by President Neil L. Rudenstine.

The commitee has a mandate to coordinate and provide information on environmental studies and is also working to create an undergraduate concentration in Environmental Studies. It was McElroy and his committee that brought Gore to Harvard.

Undergraduates remain active on the environmental front. In April, the student Environmental Action committee drew hundreds to its Earth Day festivities, and the group released a report on Harvard's environmental impact.

Today, the Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland is at Harvard straight from the Rio Earth Summit to deliver the University's Commencement address. Brundtland, chair of the World Commission on Environment and Development, is a world leader on environmental issues.

Clearly, there's a trend here. Introducing Gore last month, Green described a sense of "urgency" he discovered while travelling around Harvard's ten faculties. "Harvard will certainly be at the forefront of this in the years ahead," Green said.

Green is working closely with McElroy on environmental studies, and will deliver a brief report on the topic at the at June academic planning retreat of deans and administrators.

Harvard took substantial steps this year to become a greener University But student activists say that while recent developments are encouraging, there is still room for improvement.

"I'm not really jumping up and down with joy," says Peter B. Adler '94, a board member of the Environmental Action Committee. "There's plenty more the University can do," Alder says.

The student group's environmental audit" of Harvard called for expanding recycling programs and adding additional instructors and courses for the proposed Environmental Studies concentration.

Some progress has already been made on the academic front. Next year, the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department will add two new introductory courses on the environment, and the Committee on Environmental Studies will offer a junior tutorial, McElroy says.

Gore, who is also a Harvard overseer, said he was "extremely impressed" with the student's environmental audit, and he called for more resources devoted to the concentration.

Harvard's new commitment to the environment "won't really take off until they start spending money," Alder says.

But serious fundraising must precede any major expenditures on the environment and environmental studies.

Prospects for raising the money during the upcoming capital campaign are strong, according to Vice President for Alumni Affair and Development Fred L. Glimp '50.

"Anytime Harvard can make a case--as it probably can on the environmental thing--that it can make a strong contribution to a national problem, I think you'll find a lot of [alumni] interested in supporting it," Glimp says.

The green will follow the green, so to speak.

Gady A. Epstein contributed to the reporting of this article.

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