Expansion, Relocation Plans Questioned

Renovations on Memorial Hall have begun, but Faculty members are already expressing opposition to a massive plan scheduled go into effect when construction is completed in September 1995.

University officials say Mem Hall will welcome the first year Class of 1999 with a new dining hall, a revamped performance space, more offices for student groups and the Loker Commons, which will offer food, entertainment and meeting areas.

"It is the most complex project the University has undertaken recently," says Peter J. Riley, the construction contract administrator who is managing the effort.

At an estimated cost of $25 million, it's expensive, too. Funding comes in part from a $7 million donation by Katherine W. Loker as well as a $12 million piece of philanthropist Walter Annenberg's recent $25 million gift to the University.

The renovation of Memorial Hall will likely lead to a reconfiguration of campus life, with much student hustle-and-bustle centered on the areas around the hall and the Science Center.

With first-years taking their meals in a room now used for official functions and final exams, the Freshman Union will be opened up to new tenants. But it is the process of relocating departments there that has raised the ire of some faculty members.

The administration wants to turn the area around the union into a "Humanities Arc" which would bring together 17 humanities departments and programs, including English and American Literature and Language, Women's Studies and Romance Languages and Literatures. Officials have suggested that uniting these departments will add to the intellectual ferment.

Those plans, however, prompted a stir at a Faculty Council meeting in April. Some professors are questioning whether the arc is really an effort to cut costs, and others have wondered aloud whether departments slated for the new area can opt, not to move.

"Some professors are concerned that this center will lead to a loss of individual departmental identity at Harvard, which is something that has happened at other schools," says Professor of History James Hankins. "Some people are unjustly afraid that this could happen at Harvard."

And some scholars on the committee in women's studies, in particular, are afraid their group will lose its unique identity in the new arc.

"There are several little pockets like Women's Studies and Folklore and Mythology that would each like to keep its center," says Seferis Professor of modern Greek Studies Margaret B. Alexiou, a member of the women's studies committee.

But Alexiou, a supporter of the move, adds: "Although I'm sympathetic to the need to create our own space within a big one, I think the small units should learn to co exist...rather than each fighting for a tiny bit of territory of our own."

In an effort to build consensus and forestall criticism, an outside consulting firm will be brought in to interview all faculty members affected by the change, according to Professor of Government Gary King, a member of the Faculty Council.

But the fight over the arc is likely to become nastier when final blueprints are drawn up later this year.

"It's still not concrete enough to say that people are enthusiastic or displeased," says Assistant Professor of Classics Cynthia Damon, another council member.