Community Responds Angrily to Purchases

Sweat trickled down 175 disappointed faces of Allston residents on Wednesday night, but their ire with Harvard was the true cause of the red in their faces, as the University pleaded that its newly-revealed holdings in the community made it a "neighbor," not a "landlord."

This week's meeting of the Allston Civic Association was the first opportunity the community had to respond to Harvard's surprise announcement two weeks ago that between 1988 and 1994 it had secretly purchased 52.6 acres in the blue-collar neighborhood across the river.

Late in the nearly three hour meeting, State Senator Warren Tolman summarized the mood of the over 25 people who spoke during the evening: "I think the here tonight goes back to a Latin word--veritas. [The people of Allston] have not been dealt with fairly."

The meeting began with a presentation by Kevin A. McCluskey '76, director of community relations for Harvard. Through most of the meeting, Allston residents raised questions and concerns which McCluskey and Kathy A. Spiegelman, associate vice president for planning and real estate, attempted to answer.

"As we go from being a neighbor down the street to a neighbor more next door, we recognize that more will be expected," McCluskey said in his opening remarks.

Outraged residents repeatedly asked McCluskey and Spiegelman why Harvard deceived the community, while Harvard officials tried to focus the discussion on planning for the land's future use.


"Harvard operates under secrecy and then does ex post facto damage control," said John T. Trumpbour, an Allston resident who did graduate work at Harvard.

The community stopped Boston University and Boston College, both of which also border Allston, from buying much smaller parcels of land several years ago, according to several community leaders who attended the meeting.

"Little did I know that the university across the river was buying huge chunks of land," one resident said.

Residents questioned the morals of a governing board that would make this kind of decision.

"Did they have a conscience?" Sylvia Crystal asked of Harvard's Corporation members, the University's highest governing board. "This was just plain deception."

Tolman asked Harvard officials to say in writing that they would never secretly purchase land again.

McCluskey and Spiegelman could not make such a promise, though McCluskey said President Neil L. Rudenstine had promised Boston's Mayor that Harvard would never secretly purchase land again under Rudenstine's watch. McCluskey also said he would take this request back to the President.

Some residents pointed out McCluskey and Spiegelman were not responsible for the purchases and were frustrated Harvard did not send someone of greater consequence to the meeting.

"Harvard's president isn't here," one resident told the audience. "These are just the little people."

Vice president of Government, Community and Public Affairs James H. Rowe, who had been privy to the secret purchases, did attend the meeting, sitting three rows from the back and not commenting publicly during the proceedings.

Many residents discussed the impact Harvard as landlord would have on their lives.