Since 1997, Harvard University has been acquiring significant amounts of land across the Charles River in an area known as Allston. Harvard currently owns 344 acres of land in Allston compared to holdings of only 223 acres in Cambridge. Harvard President Lawrence Summers has recently unveiled plans for major development in the Allston area, including construction of a new science center, more undergraduate housing and the relocation of the School of Public Health. Harvard students will be seeing double as Summers envisions the development of Allston Quads, Allston Yard, Allston Square and Allston City. Considering the long-standing rivalry between the schools, should Yale be concerned about the extent of Harvard’s expansion?
The subject of Harvard’s expansion drew the attention of School of Management professor Douglas Rae. “They think they are the best university in the world now, and they want to be the best university in the world 25 years from now. They are not thinking about looking different from the other Ivies,” Rae said. Harvard’s expansion could be revolutionary in the history of the American university. Rae believes that through this expansion Harvard will be able to “morph the best of private education with the scale advantages of public education.” Harvard desires to have a higher quantity of the quality faculty the institution already enjoys. Harvard’s new Web site dedicated to the Allston projects echoes Rae’s predictions. “If we intend to compete — to attract grant funding, to recruit and retain the very best faculty, to admit the finest students — then we must grow and we must grow in Allston.”
Yale has traditionally been smaller than its neighbor in Cambridge, and Yale President Richard Levin does not believe that Harvard’s expansion into Allston poses a considerable threat to the health of Yale. “Yale’s financial resources are a little more than 50 percent of Harvard’s. Its student body is also a little more than 50 percent of Harvard’s. We would be foolish to grow relative to Harvard without raising the financial resources to support the growth,” Levin said. Yale’s total student population at 11,250 is just over half of Harvard’s total of 19,731. Furthermore, Yale’s future construction plans do not necessitate acquiring large tracts of land in the greater New Haven area. “We have an ability to grow to meet the needs of selective excellence that is somewhat more capacious than our colleagues in Cambridge. There is no room in Cambridge,” said Michael Morand, associate vice president of New Haven and state affairs. Both Yale and Harvard recognize the benefits of expansion, but members of the Yale administration have identified that the two universities are in completely different situations and it would not be practical to emulate Harvard’s actions. Still, Yale announced last year that it is considering adding two additional residential colleges, a nod, albeit a relatively small one, towards growth.
Not only does Harvard trump Yale in size, but it also has geographical advantages over Yale. Rae points out that the Boston area offers a community of high quality universities. “They are part of a large university cluster and large technology cluster, and they have one of the two greatest technological universities as an immediate neighbor,” Rae said. Harvard’s proximity to these universities, particularly the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, allows the university to reap the benefits of the career-couple phenomenon. “They have a much better advantage of combining the career couple — the smart young woman who does physics and husband who does literature.”
Rae continues to believe that “the single best investment Yale could make is in high-speed rail.” Faster routes to both New York and Boston could improve Yale’s relationships to other universities, creating a more cohesive academic community.
Levin recognizes the benefits of high-speed rail development. “I have worked on this for a decade. It’s enormously expensive, but it would be the best possible result for New Haven,” Levin said.
Harvard predicts that the Allston expansion will lead to increased interdisciplinary academic activity by locating a mixture of disciplines in Allston and building a science center intended to promote this type of learning and research. In reference to Harvard’s current science programs, the Allston project Web site emphasizes the importance of the interdisciplinary approach: “Our existing facilities in Cambridge and Longwood cannot accommodate the new multi-disciplinary ventures that represent the future of science.”
In contrast, the layout of Yale’s campus is such that the sciences appear to be isolated from other disciplines. However, Levin argues that proximity of Science Hill to undergraduate life is more important than integrating the sciences with other academic fields. “Harvard will be locating interdisciplinary science activities in Allston, much further away from undergraduates than Science Hill is. It rejected the idea of keeping science close to the undergraduates and putting interrelated professional schools on the other side of the river,” Levin said.
Harvard has impressive plans for the future as it tries to create a new class of American university. Yale’s top decision-making officials do not doubt the benefits of expansion but insist that the two universities are very different institutions and should therefore develop in different ways. “Yale has made a successful strategy of being small. If there is enough emphasis on quality, small can compete with big,” Rae said.