Cambridge v. Allston
Both sides have advocates as Harvard University considers moving HLS
Dennis Thompson has been thinking about this for four years, thinking about this longer and harder than most anyone else. So he can be forgiven, amid committees and consultants and the deliberate pace of academe, for dreaming a big dream. He sees rising out of fallow land an education nirvana, a place where people will study and research and teach and live and that they will relish for all the opportunities and comforts it affords.
The place is Allston, Mass., the focus of a Harvard University planning committee that Thompson chairs and, increasingly, the focus of the dean, faculty, alumni, and students of Harvard Law School. For the University Committee on Physical Planning is looking not only across the river but across the Yard at HLS, which could be the linchpin of a new professional school campus that could include Harvard's graduate schools of law, business (currently the only Harvard school located in Allston), government, education, and design.
"My own hope is that we will make it so attractive and so exciting that everyone will want to move there," said Thompson, a professor of political philosophy and senior adviser to Harvard President Lawrence Summers. "We want to see individual faculty and whole schools competing for a place in Allston."
That hasn't happened yet. Indeed, the initial HLS faculty opinion was resoundingly negative, with the faculty voting nearly unanimously in the fall of 1999 for the law school to remain on its Cambridge campus. While many faculty still don't favor such a move, some have warmed to the idea of designing a law school campus to suit the pedagogical and space needs described in the school's Strategic Plan. All agree that the current configuration of the campus will not serve those needs. And for Dean Robert Clark '72, physical locale is less important than continuing the tradition of excellence at HLS, wherever it may be. "I don't have any deep passion about a location or space," he said. "I have a deep passion about the law school being the best institution for learning about law and legal institutions in the world. I want to do what's right, and we're trying to figure that out."
Ultimately, the future home of Harvard Law School will be determined by Summers, who embraced development of the Allston campus in his inaugural speech last year, and the Harvard Corporation, the top governing body of the university.
"I cannot tell you where this process will end up," Summers wrote in a statement to the Bulletin. "I can tell you that it will be a process that will consider all options and one that will involve enormously careful deliberation and wide consultation with the purpose of arriving at a scenario that is acceptable to all involved. I have no doubt that Allston planning will continue to exhibit a strong collaborative spirit."
University officials are currently considering only one other possibility that would likely supersede the move of the law school: a science park that may focus on biotechnology and would, they hope, rival Silicon Valley for research and innovation. A cultural complex, including Harvard's museums, would likely supplement either a science or professional school campus. But before they make a decision--which may not happen for two years or longer--they will hear from a Harvard Law School committee that will attempt to outline the positives and negatives of moving the law school to Allston.
Established by Dean Clark in November, the Locational Options Committee is scheduled to issue a report this fall. (The Bulletin will report on the committee's findings after they are released.) The committee, chaired by Professor Elena Kagan '86, will not offer a recommendation but has gathered facts and opinions from the many constituencies that have a vested interest in the decision.
The faculty rejected the proposal to move in part due to its connections to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS). Some faculty members bristled at the description of HLS as a professional school. Though certainly a training ground for lawyers, HLS, they say, also focuses on the academic study of law, often intertwined with disciplines such as economics, history, sociology, and other subjects linked to the intellectual life of Harvard Yard.
Calling Harvard Law a professional school is accurate, says Professor Frank Michelman '60, "but it doesn't fully capture what we do or what we are here to do. The law faculty has become the academic center within the university for what people sometimes call legal studies, looking at the activities of law and legality in society in general and our society from outside as well as inside the profession. If there is on this campus any place that serves as a focus for that, it's this place, this faculty."
Kagan said, "If you did have the business school and us and the Kennedy school and a couple of other policy schools like the ed. school in Allston, there could be new academic connections. But there are very significant issues here about where legal education is going and what are the most important ties for a law school."
Another factor that will influence a decision to move is the potential growth of the law school. The school's Strategic Plan calls for more faculty and research, more interdisciplinary training, more technology, more of an international reach. Looming over it all, however, is the need for more space. The campus, according to the plan, requires an additional 115,000 square feet merely to accommodate its existing needs, and must add at least 300,000 square feet to carry out the new initiatives of the Strategic Plan.
During the most recent academic year, the school implemented a major component of the plan: reducing first-year sections from approximately 140 to 80 students. Yet the campus in its current configuration does not have classroom or meeting space designed for the new sections, envisioned as law colleges, or for other facets of the plan.
The school is scheduled to launch a fund-raising campaign next year to support academic initiatives of the Strategic Plan. Currently, the facilities component of the campaign is aimed at building a new quad--subject to City of Cambridge permission--after putting the Everett Street garage underground and moving the wood-framed houses that are now on Massachusetts Avenue near Pound Hall. If the university decides that the law school should move to Allston, HLS will likely seek building funds for use at the new campus. Plans for a new quad in Cambridge would still go forward, with university financial support, to serve the law school's interim space needs and later be converted to university use.
Even if the law school gets all the space it seeks, it still may not be enough in the long term, says Dean Clark.
"If we stay here in Cambridge, we're going to probably get into serious trouble, even under the best projections, in 20 years," he said. "If the law school were moved to Allston and got, as it would have to, I think, significantly greater acreage, it could probably take care of its growth needs for 50 years, and perhaps much longer. Growth potential is a big factor in the decision."
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