Advocate Faces College Pressure

After 138 years of self-regulation, the Harvard Advocate, the campus’ oldest student publication, is facing a growing list of demands from the University.

In interviews this weekend, Advocate trustees said that while the relationship between the literary magazine and the Harvard administration remains strong, the University’s latest actions mark a move to infringe on the autonomy of the traditionally independent group.

In March, College administrators, concerned that parties had been held in the Advocate’s 21 South St. headquarters, conducted a walk-through of the building.

They found a roof in need of repair, a broken boiler and historical artifacts rotting on the walls, according to Assistant Dean of the College Paul J. McLoughlin II. They also observed violations of fire safety ordinances and zoning laws, including stairs clogged with back issues, a lack of emergency lighting and smoking inside of the building, he says.

The building is located on land owned by Harvard but leased to the Advocate for $1 a year.

While Advocate leaders say they will comply with University requests to repair the building, they say they are surprised that Harvard has recently decided to crack down on the magazine’s independence, prohibiting the rental of the building to other student groups and mandating thousands of dollars in repairs.


Though Advocate traditions live on, the publication’s building is in need of repair.

A survey by the provost’s office found that several historic pieces of furniture and wall-hangings in the Advocate require preservation. One letter from former President John F. Kennedy ’40, currently enclosed in a regular frame, needs greater protection to prevent moisture damage, McLoughlin says. In addition, the University wants to preserve the large table and chair that occupy the sanctum—often the site of parties—on the second floor of the Advocate, he says.

But Louis Begley ’54, who chairs the Advocate’s board of trustees, called Harvard’s insistence on protecting the historical artifacts “an excess of paternalism.”

“That’s really not Harvard University’s property. That’s the magazine’s property,” he says.

But some of the building’s problems stem from Harvard’s legal concerns.

McLoughlin says that for the building to remain in compliance with fire codes, the emergency lights must be installed on the second floor, back issues must be removed from the staircase and smoking must be prohibited—though that, he says, will be nearly impossible to monitor.

“In my day,” says Begley, Advocate members “smoked like chimneys.”

And, to comply with zoning laws, a mattress currently located in the building—a sign that someone may have been living there—will have to be removed. The Advocate, which is zoned as a business, cannot permit students to live in the building, McLoughlin says.

But these repairs will come at a high cost, and the College will only cover the costs of the new lighting, which it is installing in student group offices across campus. The roof repairs will cost around $3,000, although McLoughlin says he does not know the total expected cost of repairs.