Drew Faust, president of Harvard University, is shown as she delivered her inaugural address at the campus in Cambridge, in October.
Drew Faust, president of Harvard University, is shown as she delivered her inaugural address at the campus in Cambridge, in October. (Reuters)

Harvard rethinks Allston

Faust seeks deliberative, inclusive approach to expansion plans

Email|Print| Text size + By Linda K. Wertheimer
Globe Staff / December 12, 2007

The president of Harvard University, Drew Faust, showing restraint on a major expansion that her predecessor relentlessly promoted, plans to reexamine proposals to move two graduate schools and other operations from Cambridge to a new campus across the Charles River in Allston.

A $1 billion science complex, which will house a stem cell institute, will stay on track for a ground-breaking early next year. But everything else, including plans for building four undergraduate dorms in the Boston neighborhood, will be reviewed, Faust said in a phone interview Monday.

The new president said she intends to meet with deans and faculty during the next several months to develop the best proposal for the new and the old campuses. She said the university will take pains to consult more widely and deliberately with faculty and community members and, if necessary, revise the plan before giving the final version to the city next fall. Several professors have expressed concerns that the current Allston plan could dilute the cohesive quality of student and academic life on the Cambridge side of the river.

"For the last several years, the university leadership has been in transition," Faust said. "I can own a project and look at it in a deliberative way. . . . We're looking at everything again."

Faust's message to faculty leaders in re cent weeks that she will take a deliberate, inclusive approach in Allston is a stark contrast to the confrontational and fast-moving style of her predecessor, Lawrence Summers. Harvard professors, Mayor Thomas M. Menino, and an Allston community leader welcomed the idea that the university will fully scrutinize the plan, which would transform the north part of Allston from a largely blue-collar neighborhood to a sister campus.

"We were really rushing headlong into Allston," said Orlando Patterson, a sociology professor. "There was a strong sense of a lack of consultation. That was the major, major problem with Larry. There was a simulation of consultation, but people got the impression that the decision was already made."

Summers, who resigned in 2006 after clashes with faculty, rattled professors as his administration unveiled a series of proposals for Allston beginning in 2003, including plans to develop 4 million to 5 million square feet in Allston over the next 20 years. Several professors said that under Summers, details were scarce about the plans and discussion university-wide was minimal with few formal ways for the full faculty to participate.

Summers, though, did appoint task forces to recommend ideas for each major aspect of the plan, including housing, professional schools, and science.

The blueprint, the first phase of a 50-year plan, described generally in a proposal submitted to the city early this year, included moving all or part of the Graduate School of Education and School of Public Health across the river as well as adding the undergraduate dorms and building a university art museum in Allston, which has since been delayed.

Harvard also has proposed moving hundreds of researchers and staff from the Longwood medical area to the emerging campus.

The mayor, while pointing out that he would have liked to see the Allston art museum built on schedule, gave Faust credit for her strategic approach.

"She wants it done the right way. Sometimes, you rush projects," Menino said. "She wants to listen. It's just a wiser way."

In a meeting with chairs of the school of Arts and Sciences two weeks ago, Faust made it clear "that this huge project of moving full steam ahead in Allston is something the university needs to rethink," said Diana Eck, the department chairwoman for the study of religion.

Eck, who is also the house master of Lowell House, an undergraduate dormitory, said Harvard should not move four dorms to Allston, in part because needed repairs to deteriorating residence halls in Cambridge should be given priority over the construction of dorms.

Eck said she also worried about splitting up where undergraduates live because one of Harvard's strengths has been its strong, cohesive residential life.

Others agreed. "I'm really in favor of keeping everything with the word undergraduate attached to it on the same side of the river, together . . . and not move some people across the river," said Eric Mazur, a physics professor.

Harvard's decision to delay the building of the museum in Allston and instead first renovate the Fogg and Busch-Reisinger museums in Cambridge was part of Faust's desire to slow the process and review the overall Allston plan, said Steven Hyman, provost.

"The notion that we could at the same time manage an enormous renovation of the Fogg and give our full attention to building a contemporary art museum in Allston just didn't make a lot of sense," Hyman said. "In this more deliberative mode, we'll be able to look at the needs for university art museums and see whether we can build an ideal shared facility at a time scale that will be easier for the community to accept."

Many Allston residents have been eager to see more planning and inclusiveness from the university, said Harry Mattison, a member of Menino's task force on Allston.

Residents want the university to provide more for the community in its proposals, including more access to physical fitness facilities, a university-run public school on the campus, and more access to university-run transportation, Mattison said.

"Being careful and making better decisions is a great thing to do," he said. "We want to see this done right the first time because that's what we're going to live with for the next 100 years in our neighborhood."

In the interview, Faust emphasized that the university will continue with the Allston expansion because the school needs more laboratory, residential, arts, and academic facilities but has no room for physical growth in either Cambridge or Longwood. But to succeed, Harvard must include wide consultation, she said.

"What are our academic dreams, and how does Allston help realize them? What would be in Cambridge? What would be in Allston?" Faust said. "Every school is now involved."

Linda Wertheimer can be reached at

(Correction: Because of a designer's error, a map accompanying a Page One story yesterday on a Harvard University expansion plan did not show properties more recently acquired by Harvard, including the 48-acre CSX rail yards and several smaller properties on Western Avenue.)

(Correction: Because of a reporting error, a Page One story Wednesday about Harvard University's long-range plans to expand in Allston gave an incorrect location for the Harvard School of Public Health. The school is in Boston's Longwood medical area.)

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