Facing Allston's Challenges

New graduate community across the Charles must not lose contact with the College


The idea of building another campus across the Charles presents many formidable challenges—and keeping College students involved with the institutions that move across the river is foremost among them.

Placing science research facilities in Allston while keeping instructional labs in Cambridge—which at first glance might seem inconvenient—can benefit both in the long run. For example, if instructional science labs are kept near the Yard, they will have more attractive, expanded, interactive space. These labs will improve the quality of education in both introductory Core classes and more serious, advanced science offerings. Improving instruction-based labs near the Yard also fits well with President Lawrence H. Summers’ declared intention to increase science awareness for all undergraduates, including non-science concentrators.

In contrast to the instruction-based science labs in Cambridge, the Allston campus should house expanded research laboratories and science Faculty offices. Professors and graduate students will have access to expanded and updated facilities, especially wet labs, for which they have been clamoring for years. In this respect, the graduate students who staff these research facilities will also be working closer to their new dormitory space in Allston and closer to a new heart of graduate student life. And College students will have access to the same new, high-quality research facilities available across the river. While this location would make it more convenient for Harvard scientists to collaborate with local biotechnology firms, the University must ensure that such linkages do not interfere with their educational mission.

Undeniably, this physical division between instruction and research will force science professors to divide their time between the two areas. Though not ideal, several science faculty have expressed a strong desire to conduct their research in close proximity to their colleagues, and Allston is the only location with the space to house them and leave room for future expansion. And though it might seem a burden to have undergraduate science concentrators go across the river to conduct research, many students have already demonstrated a willingness to trek to the multitude of labs in the Longwood Medical Area, which is much further than Allston but offers excellent research facilities.

The centralized location of the graduate schools will undoubtedly provide the opportunity for interdisciplinary study, but if Loker Commons has taught us nothing else, we know that it takes more than space to create community. Currently, the Provost’s Office oversees several inter-faculty initiatives such as the Mind/Brain/Behavior (MBB) program; that and other programs could be strengthened by the increased focus and attention a unified graduate campus would provide. From human rights to ethics to economic development, Harvard can benefit from debating diverse viewpoints in an effort to continually sharpen its research and teaching. The Kennedy School of Government’s Institute of Politics is an excellent example of how a graduate school can attract and cultivate undergraduate interest in its mission.

Of course, the divide between the Yard’s historic campus and the new Allston campus will most prominently affect students. As the number of posters in the Yard for Law School Forums and Graduate School of Education speakers begins to wane, new approaches must be developed for keeping students connected to all the opportunities the University offers.

While technically undergrads here are allowed to take some graduate courses, many schools do not advertise their offerings or encourage College students to participate in their programs. By promoting cross-enrollment and multidisciplinary programs that appeal to a broader undergraduate audience, the graduate schools can attract Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) students and professors to participate together, enriching the quality of their discourse. As MBB did by consciously integrating FAS personnel, similar programs should keep the College in mind as the valuable resource that it is; dynamic programs must not segregate themselves across the river.

College students rarely venture over to the Business School, but it is currently the only school across the Charles. If Allston were to become a hub of several graduate schools, which would sponsor panels and events open and publicized to undergraduate and graduate students alike, activity is bound to flourish.

Re-centering Harvard’s campus around the river, with the Yard and Allston as two foci of academic inquiry, will be the University’s great building project of this century. The move will come with immense cost and inevitable difficulty, but Harvard has an unparalleled opportunity to create a University with the Charles in the center of campus, rather than at its boundary.

Click here to view a detailed map of Harvard's Allston holdings.