The competition for campus space--namely building space--has emerged as one of the overarching issues this past year. Among the stew of considerations: The University has already taken over ownership of the Hasty Pudding building, which will almost certainly force out the venerable social organization and make room for wider student use. The new Radcliffe Institute may take over Agassiz and Byerly Halls, as well as move graduate students out of the Cronkhite Center. Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles, in his annual letter to the Faculty, noted that the University is considering eventually repossessing the Inn at Harvard for academic purposes.
The allocation of building resources is a complicated issue, and subject to a number of different, if not competing concerns. Knowles has expressed concern about the current lack of Faculty office space. The University has been busy bidding for land in Allston, perhaps with the intention of relocating a graduate school to across the river. The number of student groups has ballooned in recent years, but space to house student group offices has not kept up. And performing arts groups find themselves competing for time at venues like the Agassiz and the Loeb Mainstage.
It would be difficult and confusing to address all of these considerations at once. But in the more narrow area of allocating space for student use, we urge the University to make the following two tasks their top priorities: Build a student center and transform the Hasty Pudding into a performing arts center.
Since it is unlikely that a student center would be built from scratch, we humbly propose two options. The first is converting the Inn at Harvard, which will be in University's hands in about 13 years. The second is converting the currently underused and under-maintained Hemenway Gym. Although FAS owns the gym, it is primarily used by a handful of law school students. Indeed, in 1998, the College seriously considered moving the office of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid into Hemenway's space. Both locations would be ideal spots for a student center. They are positioned roughly midway between the Quad and the River (and tantalizing close to the Yard).
However, it seems that the biggest obstacle facing such a center isn't the money or the space, but rather a sense among administrators that such a center is not necessary in the first place.
According to a report written by then-Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III and Coordinator of Student Activities Susan T. Cooke, the number of student groups has almost tripled from 90 in 1980 to 241 two years ago. Consequently, student groups--the lifeblood of student life--live in dorm basements or Loker Commons lockers. A student center--a place that would combine space for student group offices and other recreational activity--would unify an increasingly fragmented student body.
In the area of a performing arts center, the University seems to be on the right track. Associate Dean of the College David P. Illingworth '71 has rightly noted that the newly acquired Hasty Pudding building should be devoted entirely to student use. Because of the building's size, facilities and heritage, it would make a far better "performing arts center" than any kind of student center.
But any renovations plans should make a conscious effort to embrace as many different types of performing arts groups as possible. This means the building should be home to a wide variety of performances, including theater, music, dance and cultural arts. We are worried that a narrow focus on any one or two "privileged" groups would turn the building into just another kind of clubhouse. The goal should be to maximize student use of the building while maintaining a sense of building character and purpose.
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