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In September 1986, Harvard University President Derek C. Bok and Dean of the Graduate School of Design Gerald M. McCue cut into a massive cake sculpted to resemble the building that stood behind them—the Design School’s iconic Gund Hall.
Across campus at the Kennedy School of Government, Dean Graham T. Allison ’62 led another celebration, featuring visits from Senator Edward M. Kennedy ’54-’56, Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger ’68, and Saudi Arabian oil minister Ahmed Zaki Yamani.
In a year that brought a 350th anniversary for Harvard, two of its younger graduate schools had their own reasons for festivities. They were each commemorating their 50th birthdays. Their jubilee year became an occasion not only to invite celebrities and call caterers but also to reflect and look forward, as both schools faced the future questioning their roles within the University. The 50th anniversary marked the beginning of these graduate schools’ shift from a professional orientation to a more academic approach.
PASSING THE TORCH
For the Kennedy School, the anniversary celebration was focused on an examination of the ideals upon which it had been founded. Fifty years after Lucius N. Littauer, Class of 1878, had marked Harvard’s 300th anniversary with a founding donation of $2 million and 20 years after the graduate program had been renamed in memory of slain President John F. Kennedy ’40, HKS had finally come into its own.
Francis M. Bator, Lucius N. Littauer professor of political economy emeritus, recalled the uncertainty following the school’s 1966 renaming. “Would we ever grow into a major independent graduate school? For perhaps a decade or so there was bound to be a question about that,” said Bator. But by the 1980s, Bator said, the Kennedy School “had made a place for itself on the map”.
Allison, who was dean of the Kennedy School during its anniversary year, said that the 50th anniversary celebration coincided with a more widespread recognition of the School’s legitimacy. “By 1987 we had a campus, a strategy,” Allison said. “It was clear that the Kennedy School existed and was going to become one of the features of Harvard.”
The Graduate School of Design’s influence had been growing as well, demonstrated by the 2,000 guests who joined the approximately 450 graduate students of the time for events commemorating the school’s history.
Among the most distinguished guests was Prince Charles of Wales, who had requested to visit the Design School during his trip to Harvard for the University’s 350th anniversary festivities. An anonymous donor established a prize for international urban design in honor of the Prince, a professed design enthusiast, though some faculty at the Design School criticized the royal visitor’s distaste for modern architecture.
The Design School hosted symposia on the history and future of the school and showcased exhibits of archives and student work from the past and present.
These exhibitions illustrated the growth of Harvard’s commitment to design. From a small faculty based in Robinson and Hunt Halls, the full-fledged school had expanded its programs in Gund Hall, its own building.
“The quality of the student work was an important cause to celebrate and a telling sign of our growth,” said McCue.
MORE PROFESSOR THAN PROFESSIONAL
For some at both schools, the 1987 anniversary marked the early days of a new outlook that valued academic research, not just professional development.
Professor Mark H. Moore said that since its 50th anniversary, the Kennedy School has veered from its original programs for government professionals.
“We were close to the zenith of our work at that time,” Moore said, reflecting on the 1987 state of the executive education program, a career development course that he helped found. “The Kennedy School has been drawn back from the professional frontier to a place that’s more comfortable in the world of academia and less useful to the world at large.”
Today, Moore said, “There’s always a pressure on professional schools to look more and more like academic departments.”
Echoing Moore’s belief that graduate schools defend their reputation for academic legitimacy within the University, Professor Alex Krieger, who helped lead some of the Design School’s symposia in 1986, noted that the school has sometimes been viewed as “not scholarly enough.”
In the fall of 1986, the first students enrolled in new Master in Design Studies and Doctor of Design programs, an initial step toward what Assistant Dean for Internal and External Communications Ben Prosky called a new interest in research and “design thinking” that heightened the school’s academic profile.
McCue said, “I felt that the programs we were bringing to the school would allow the school to tackle some of the larger problems that exist in the profession and for society, like housing and sustainability.”
Krieger praised the new degree programs for bringing a more diverse group of students to the school. Now, he said, students and faculty with widely varying backgrounds more frequently address issues like ecology and urbanization together.
The collaborative spirit extended across the University as well. The Design School had established joint degree programs with the Kennedy School and the Law School and had recently begun planning joint courses with the School of Public Health.
Looking back on the mentality that characterized both schools in their 50th year, faculty saw institutions that changed over time.
Prosky said that Gund Hall was designed so that sunlight could enter through its skylights, illuminating students’ drafting boards to enable easier design. This sunlight now creates a glare for the students who work on computer screens. “Who knows?” he asked. “In 25 years, will there be holograms instead?”
—Staff writer Delphine Rodrik can be reached at email@example.com.
—Staff writer Amy L. Weiss-Meyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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