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Keeping an Eye on Harvard

By Rosalind S. Helderman

Fellow members of the Class of 2001, who now become the youngest members in the vast Harvard alumni giving pool, and our classmates who we leave behind: Perk up your ears, prick up your noses and lose your leashes—-this University needs some watchdogs.

This is a school that likes to keep its decisions and its problems all in the family. And despite what your friends from the Senior Gift are saying, none of us are in the family. From the major decisions (a new president, anyone?) to the minor, Harvard makes up its mind behind closed doors. All the rest of us can do is knock on those doors, cajoling, complaining and withholding donations until things go our way.

It’s up to each of us who care about the future of our alma mater to keep track of its progress and raise our voices when necessary. Here is a brief description of three of the most important issues facing Harvard in the near future that I believe we should all be watching.

•Allston

I have trouble trying to convince my friends they should care about a major land acquisition across the river. So far, public discussion of the land has been limited to easements and land cultivation, so I’m not sure I blame them. But the purchase of about 100 acres in Allston over the last several years is the single most significant move the University has made in decades, and every student and graduate of this University should care intensely about its future.

What the University decides to build across the river will completely reshape how this school looks closer to Harvard Yard. If you want a student center, you should care about Allston; relocating the Graduate School of Education might free up enough land for just such a building here in Cambridge. If you want smaller classes, you should care about Allston; if the Law School left for the new land, there would be plenty of land to build new classroom buildings and office space for the new professors that would require.

No decisions have been made yet—-I’m sure administrators would love to hear all of our suggestions.

•New professors

Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles is itching to hire, and he hasn’t been shy about saying so. Our student to faculty ratio hovers at 8:1 (compared to 6:1 at supposedly undergrad-friendly Princeton). Any major new curricular shift, like Knowles’ attempt to create a sweeping new freshman seminar program that would include all first-years, would require more professors than we’ve now got.

So if everyone thinks this is a good idea, why isn’t it happening? It’s not easy to convince junior professors they should move to Harvard with their families, when they know they’ll likely be moving again in just a few years when they are denied tenure. And it’s awfully hard to increase the ranks of senior professors, if you’re committed to only tenuring the one best person in the world in every field.

•The Summers Difference

Harvard presidents have the power to determine the attitude of this place. Students can always hope that each new president will be the one to decide they deserve spots on major decision-making committees of the University. I have some hope that Summers might be the one to open the University up to those it serves.

Summers has worked in government, and he is used to being watched. He understands constituencies and the need to keep them happy. It’s no surprise that he has already popped up at Springfest and in dining halls. (He also understands the need to keep the media happy; he’s already come by The Crimson’s offices once more than his predecessor did in 10 years of service.) Only time will tell if he plans a truly new spirit of openness or if his recent actions are part of a nicely-packaged public relations scheme.

It would take a bold and confident president to change entirely the way this University interacts with students and alumni. I do hope Summers is that president. And if not, get ready Larry, I’ll be watching.

Rosalind S. Helderman ’01, a history concentrator in Pforzheimer House, was managing editor of The Crimson in 2000.

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