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New Provost Faces Challenges in Allston

Alan M. Garber ’76 will shape Harvard’s presence in Allston as he steps into Steven E. Hyman’s shoes

An illustration representing the changing future of Harvard relations with Allston that come with changes in leadership.
An illustration representing the changing future of Harvard relations with Allston that come with changes in leadership. By Alex G. Libby
By Tara W. Merrigan and Nathalie R. Miraval, Crimson Staff Writers

On the Friday morning in April when his appointment as Provost was announced, Alan M. Garber ’76 spoke in subdued tones as he discussed his thoughts on succeeding Steven E. Hyman. But Garber lit up with excitement—the corners of his mouth tugging up into a small smile—as he touched on the possibilities associated with Harvard’s expansion in Allston.

With a medical degree and a Ph.D. in economics, Garber—a Stanford professor who will assume the Provost position at the end of this academic year—says he is particularly excited to spearhead Harvard’s development in Allston, a place where Harvard’s wide breadth of science resources could centralize and flourish through interdisciplinary work.

“One of the biggest attractions of this job is the ability to participate in the future of the Allston campus,” Garber said at the time. “I view Allston as an opportunity unlike any other in American higher education today, where there is a campus that can be used to help realize the University’s vision for the future and make this a truly 21st century university.”

Despite his optimism, Garber will take up his post facing a historically difficult relationship between the University and the neighborhood and a future in which Harvard, having learned from the financial crisis, must proceed cautiously. While Garber has previously said that spearheading the University’s Allston planning is one of the most exciting aspects of the provost position, he was unable to elaborate on his vision for Allston.

Despite spending the past 25 years at Stanford, Garber will be at home at Harvard. He is a summa cum laude graduate who studied Economics at the College. He went on to receive his Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard and an M.D. from Stanford. During his time on the Stanford faculty, Garber’s academic work has focused mainly on health policy economics, but he has also served on a Harvard Medical School and Harvard Dental School visiting committee.

Garber’s colleagues, both those past at Stanford and future at Harvard, say they believe his accomplishments on the west coast will give him the momentum to bring the sciences to Allston, though it will be a challenging project.

A DIFFICULT PAST

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Harvard purchased 52.6 acres of land in Allston under a subsidiary of a different name, with plans to expand the University’s campus across the river.

In 1997, Allston residents discovered Harvard’s stealthy purchases of land, sparking tensions between the neighborhood and the University. But in 2003, the University revealed its plans for a portion of its land-holdings; Lawrence H. Summers, Harvard’s president at the time, announced that the University would build the Allston Science Complex on a large plot of land on Western Avenue, behind the Harvard Business School. Four years of community meetings and strategic planning followed.

In 2007, the Boston Redevelopment Authority fast-tracked the plan for approval, and the following year the University broke ground on the site.

But Harvard was only able to construct the foundation of the complex. Following, the financial crisis in the Fall of 2008, Harvard announced it was slowing construction on the site in Feb. 2009 and halted it completely that December. The plot of land on Western Avenue that was meant to be a vibrant center for stem cell research is now a paved-over foundation—a building project indefinitely on hold—surrounded by a fence and University-subsidized shrubbery. In the wake of the halt on construction, Harvard University President Drew G. Faust promised a three-part plan that would develop Allston in other ways: leasing and improving vacant property, engaging the community, and developing Harvard’s campus when feasible.

Harvard asserts that it has made good on the first two portions of this plan, having leased over 118,000 square feet of land to 12 businesses and nonprofit organizations in the past six months.

The leases include an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant, a boxing club, a swiss bakery, and most recently a dance studio, Mass Motion. Many residents say they are excited that vacant lands will soon spur activity, but other community members note that they feel the businesses will not provide them with everyday necessities that have been lost since Harvard began buying up property in the neighborhood.

“We had a community master-plan and this is what we’re getting—we’re getting restaurants,” says Paul Berkeley, the president of the Allston Civic Association, recalling the loss of retail outlets, such as Kmart and OfficeMax.

Others say that while bringing businesses to Allston is beneficial to the local economy, it does not compare to the number of jobs that the construction and presence of the Science Complex would have provided the neighborhood. Furthermore, Harvard’s original proposals for Allston reveal a plan to make the neighborhood a cultural center, with the possibility of transporting some of the University’s museums across the river.

“[Western Avenue} was going to be completely remade with culture and museums, and what we’re getting is some pizza and a bakery some day,” says Harry E. Mattison, a member of the Harvard Allston Task Force.

THE ROAD AHEAD

While Allston may not be a cultural center for the University in the immediate future, there is renewed discussion about bringing Harvard’s sciences across the river. As the economy stabilizes and Harvard’s endowment regains its strength, the University once again sets its sights on Allston. Hyman says that he is “quite hopeful” that there will be “active Harvard academic programs” in Allston in the next ten to fifteen years, suggesting that the construction project will see resurrection, though perhaps not in its original form. As the new provost, Garber’s job will be to bring vision and vigor to Harvard’s plans for development in Allston, taking the lead from Hyman, a man who has seen years of dreams deferred in the neighborhood.

“I oversaw the development of the academic plan for the Allston Science Complex, and my greatest disappointment as provost is that a plan I believed in, because of changes to the economy, had to go on ice,” says Hyman who was provost under Summers when the project was first announced and has overseen academic planning at the University for the past decade. “At times, I just felt defeated by the financial reality. It certainly caused me to reflect on the possibility that the physical plan was grander than perhaps we needed for the academic plan,” Hyman adds, who—like Garber—is a physician and researcher by training.

Hyman’s tenure represents the longest in the history of the position, which was created 19 years ago. He has endured the tumultuous end of Summers’ presidency, the transition to Faust, and the devastating effects of the financial crisis. In order to succeed in Allston, Hyman notes that Garber must make the project his own.

“In the end Alan is going to have to own the academic plan because if Allston is going to be a success it’s going to have to bring together, just within the science part, FAS, Harvard Medical School, the School of Public Health and, ideally, the Business School,” Hyman says.

Garber is cognizant of the role the provost must play in bringing together different disciplines from across the University as the administration considers its path forward in Allston.

“In the case of Allston, the challenge is not only to figure out which disciplines would benefit from the facilities located in Allston, but also to predict where synergies might occur,” Garber writes in an email. “In other words, we need to understand how the pieces will fit together, assessing the potential for unexpected and productive collaborations.”

Garber will not be without help in developing a viable academic vision for the University in Allston. For the past year and a half, Executive Vice President Katherine N. Lapp has overseen the Allston Work Team, a 14-person group of deans, alumni, and faculty commissioned by Faust to asses Harvard’s presence in the neighborhood and develop recommendations for how to proceed. The results of their findings will be available to the community in June, according to the group’s co-chair Bill Purcell, though neither he nor Lapp would comment on the shape the recommendations will take or the nature of their content.

“[Garber] will certainly be very much in the mix in terms of understanding what kind of activities and interdisciplinary opportunities exist,” says Lapp, noting that she, personally, has briefed him on the main issues around the University’s development in Allston. “We make sure he has as much information as possible,” she adds.

Lapp, whose past titles include executive director of the Metropolitan Transit Authority in New York City and executive vice president for business operations at the University of California, comes to the puzzle of Harvard’s expansion in Allston from a business and urban development perspective and has used that knowledge to collaborate with Work Team’s chairs, who have differing areas of expertise.

Purcell, a former mayor of Nashville, was the director of the Institute of Politics until April 2010, when he stepped down to devote more time to developing the Work Team’s recommendations. Purcell has a long history of witnessing the tensions that arise from University expansion.

Growing up in Philadelphia, Purcell has noted that he experienced first hand the University of Pennsylvania’s contentious development into its surrounding neighborhoods, a past he says he brings to bear in his current work. Purcell holds monthly coffee hours intended to allow Allston residents to express concerns; the last will take place this June, when the Work Team’s recommendations are released.

Working alongside Purcell are Business School Professor Peter Tufano ’79 and Graduate School of Design Professor Alex Krieger, who were chosen to bring different perspectives to the process.

Christine M. Heenan, vice president for public affairs and communication, notes that Garber’s foundation in science will be useful in evaluating and implementing the Work Team’s recommendations.

Heenan says that Garber will be an asset in figuring out “how to take the programmatic opportunities that exist, how to envision the future of science, life-science, and...what happens inside the physical structures.”

“There is an increasing coalescence around the future in Allston,” Heenan adds. “He’ll, of course, want to spend time there.”

UP FOR THE CHALLENGE?

Many of Garber’s former and future colleagues note that he is a man who has a history of listening, of integrating perspectives and seeing the big picture, qualities that will serve him well in taking up the challenges presented by Harvard’s future in Allston.

As a young graduate student David M. Cutler ’87, a Harvard professor of applied economics and global health, knew he could not pass up the opportunity to speak with the well-known economist at a conference both were attending.

“I was a first or second year graduate, and he took a fair amount of time to speak with me,” says Cutler, a former dean of the social sciences, remembering the surprise he felt when Garber agreed unhesitatingly.

Cutler says that the respect he gained for the man who exchanged thoughts with him has not faltered. From paving new paths in health care policy to running the Boston marathon, Garber has made a favorable impression on colleagues at both Stanford and Harvard.

“Alan is very respected here,” Cutler says. “Every time there’s has been a search for a health care policy position that I’ve been a part of his name came up.”

For these reasons, Garber found himself in a similar situation 20 years later. Instead of a student seeking advice, it was Faust seeking a provost. She invited him to lunch one January afternoon when she was visiting California. Just a few months later, she announced his appointment to the post.

Fresh off the California coast, Garber has experience integrating different disciplines within a university, according to his colleagues. Before Garber accepted the position at Harvard, he was in the midst of organizing a Stanford-wide program on health care affordability—according to Paul G. Yock, professor of medicine at Stanford and Garber’s friend for the past 30 years.

“He is able to see issues broadly, mobilize a broad stakeholder community, and then execute effectively,” Yock says of the project, which has not yet been completed. He adds that these skills, along with Garber’s deep engagement with his current community, will be major assets for his role in Allston.

“He’s a real citizen in every respect,” Yock says.

Yock adds that Garber’s hybrid background in science, health care, and economics will provide him with the wisdom necessary to drive home Harvard’s plans for Allston.

“I think in selecting Alan Garber to serve as provost, Harvard has improved its capacity to deal with a very challenging set of issues,” says Coit D. Blacker, a professor of international studies at Stanford, when asked about Garber’s role in Allston planning.

“I think he can drive the process very, very effectively, at the same time I think he can help Drew Faust provide very high quality leadership as we all head into the second decade of the twenty-first century,” Blacker says. “He thinks institutionally and that’s why he’s great for Harvard,” he adds.

Though the specifics of how Garber will shape Harvard’s expansion in Allston remain unclear, Harvard administrators say that they believe he is up for the challenge.

“I have every confidence that Alan will step in and continue the progress that has been made on moving forward,” Hyman says, adding that he believes Garber will “relish” the opportunity.

—Staff writer Tara W. Merrigan can be reached at tmerrigan@college.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Nathalie R. Miraval can be reached at nmiraval@college.harvard.edu.

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Central AdministrationAllstonDrew FaustYear in ReviewCommencement 2011