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Editorials

A Farewell to the Divinity School Oak Tree

HDS Tree
Administrators plan to fell a century-old red oak tree on the Divinity School's campus as part of planned renovations to Andover Hall. Some students are outraged.

The planned removal of a century-old red oak tree near Andover Hall on the Harvard Divinity School campus due to renovations has sparked important debates over the necessity of protecting trees on the school’s property and across Cambridge. But in the wake of professional arborists’ assessments that the oak is in “irreversible decline” and poses severe risks to passersby if it were to fall, we accept the expert diagnosis of its health, and must sadly bid farewell to it.

We have been heartened by the thoughtful protestation that has accompanied the proposal of cutting down the tree. Preserving areas of nature in an increasingly urbanized world fosters community around those spaces, and we must always be aware of actions — such as the removal of this tree — that may threaten conservation of green spaces in our city. This is an opportunity for the Divinity School, and the University as a whole, to reaffirm its commitment to responsible development on its campus. Given our strong predisposition to keep as many trees as possible, we call on Harvard to provide comprehensive justification for actions like these.

As the open forums hosted by the Divinity School show, significant actions like the oak’s removal often have massive effects on the surrounding communities and residents. The University must focus on actively listening and responding to concerned parties as well as laying out thorough, transparent plans for building and maintaining a natural, beautiful campus. This process must take place not merely for affiliates of the University, but also for the communities in the broader Cambridge area. Moreover, the tree’s religious importance to some affiliates of the Divinity School remind us that tree canopies, green spaces, and scenes situated within nature have held great significance to people of all cultures, traditions, and religious denominations throughout history. Though the oak may not be on the Divinity School’s campus for much longer, we cannot understate or ignore the deep importance of environmentalism.

While we regret that this century-old oak may soon be no more, we ask Harvard to consider planting or providing a new tree in its place, among the other slated renovations on the Divinity School’s campus. Given the school’s commitment that Andover Hall “enrich” students’ spiritual lives, we believe the new tree can serve as a symbolic gesture showing respect for and perpetuation of these values.

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To the University’s credit, it has already contributed significantly to the tree canopy around campus — officials have cited that Harvard has planted over 120 trees across its campus in the last decade. In that time, Harvard has only removed four, citing safety reasons. These efforts are commendable: not only do they make our surroundings more beautiful, but they illustrate the University’s commitment to environmentalism and sustainability. In continuing with these efforts, Harvard should demonstrate thoughtful plans to expand natural spaces in and around campus in the future While the planting of these trees is an admirable first step, the University must remain vigilant in its pursuit of green spaces, especially as the SEAS campus expansion in Allston nears completion.

While this red oak may leave our campus, we are hopeful that its significance will not be lost, and that the conversation sparked by this issue continue far into the future – far beyond the lifespan of any single oak.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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