A lot of things happened this year that I wish had never happened. I wish administrators had consulted students and faculty before deciding to move the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences to Allston. I wish Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds had never ordered a second round of email searches and given false statements to the press. I wish the outside world had heard more about Harvard’s innovation and research than they did about cheating scandals and broken trust. Above all, I wish that the students in Government 1310: “Introduction to Congress” had not cheated on their exam one year ago.
From beginning to end, the Gov 1310 scandal was mismanaged. One year ago, no one would have thought that much of this year would be spent cleaning up the cheating mess. When the cheating was announced in late August, no one would have thought that we would be talking about secret email searches and administrative intrigue in the Spring. In the Fall, students had little confidence in the Dean of the College, if only because they did not really know who she was. Who would have thought then that the Dean of the College would circumvent the rules of the faculty, order secret email searches, and then come down with an incredible case of amnesia when news broke of an initial round of searches? Who would have thought it was possible for the Dean to order a kind of search that is conducted only “very, very rarely” in connection with the largest cheating scandal in living memory and then give a statement saying that the additional searches never occurred? However pure her intentions were, her judgment was inexcusably faulty. Students have lost what confidence they had in Dean Hammonds, and the trust they had in the college administration is severely damaged. Fortunately, her departure is forthcoming.
And yet, despite all of those challenges, there is no place I would rather be than Cambridge, and there is no school I would rather go to than Harvard. Harvard’s failings have been embarrassingly public this year, so public that our successes have not received the attention they deserve. This page spends a great deal of time criticizing—as it should—but it is important to acknowledge what Harvard did well. And there is so, so much that was done very, very well.
Housing renewal, for instance, is an easy thing to get wrong, but Harvard seems to be on the right track. It would have been easier—and cheaper—to treat swing housing like an afterthought and throw displaced students in random open spaces across Cambridge. Instead, the University is trying mightily to keep students in a central location, close together, and connected to the House community. There are some complaints about the floor plans for the new building, but the truth is that no one will really be able to form a complete opinion until students start living in the renovated spaces. Then, hopefully, the University will take their concerns into consideration. That is the point of a “test project,” after all.
Harvard was also at its best in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings. Our community came together in exactly the way it should. There was an atmosphere of mutual support and a sense that even a terrorist bombing and the largest manhunt in Massachusetts’s history could not dampen Harvard’s spirit.
Meanwhile, the research and teaching that is at the core of our mission has continued even as federal budget sequestration has threatened our funding. Just in the past year, Harvard has built “the smallest robotic insect capable of flight” that might one day be used for any of a number of purposes. At the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, researchers say that the discovery of a specific hormone may help to develop treatments for diabetes. The University-wide push towards entrepreneurship has continued with the second annual President’s Challenge and more programming at the i-lab. To help Harvard meet future challenges in research and teaching, fundraising for a new capital campaign is underway.
So, yes, Harvard has had a difficult year. Yes, we have problems that remain unresolved. But we should not get carried away in criticism. Every once in a while, step back and ask, “Is there any other place you would rather be going to college?” As long as the answer is, “No,” then there is cause for optimism.
Chris B. Farley is a Crimson editorial writer in Winthrop House.
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