Campus & Community

Facing the challenges of tomorrow (page 4)

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Facing the challenges of tomorrow

Jeremy R. Knowles, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences

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The Library

Two years ago, I invited the Standing Committee of the Library to examine and analyze our options for the future, understanding the limits on space in Cambridge and recognizing our growing dependence on technology. I asked: “What choices will best enable us, now and in the future, to improve and extend the collections, to support scholarship at Harvard and elsewhere, and to make the best possible use of our existing library space?” The Standing Committee has submitted a thoughtful report that has been examined by the Faculty Council and that will be docketed for discussion by the full Faculty.

The report focuses on five areas. First, the exceptional size and quality of our printed collections demands a commitment to their continued growth, to the integration of the increasing amount of information available in new formats, and to a search for new sources of funds to support these needs. Second, there are 14 science libraries in the Faculty, of which only three lie within the Harvard College Library. The rest are administered and funded by academic departments. The report recommends that we explore the prospects for a consolidated research-level library that would more effectively encompass the information needs of the life sciences and the physical sciences, from anthropology to zoology. Third, we must recognize that the nature of access to our collections is changing. By the summer of 2002, more than half of the collections of the Harvard College Library (which will by then approach 9 million volumes) will be stored outside Cambridge. We must therefore urgently explore the use of digital ‘metadata’ (tables of contents, indices, etc.) so as to enhance the effectiveness of the available search engines. Fourth, the report urges closer collaboration between members of the faculty, the library staff, and the Instructional Computing group, in the use of the new technologies for teaching and research. Finally, the question of preservation – of printed and of electronic material – needs to be addressed, both here and in collaboration with other great libraries.

The Committee’s recommendations will need be carefully discussed, and we shall have to establish our priorities for the coming years. For we cannot adopt the attitude of the Vatican censors in 1559 as they struggled to broaden the Index of Prohibited Books: “What we need,” they said, “is a halt to printing, so that the Church can catch up with this deluge of publications.” The Faculty will need to examine how our students and our colleagues (as well as the world of scholars outside Harvard) can best be served, and how the Library can interact more closely with the faculty in such areas as the design of search engines for research, access to online journals, and the provision of teaching material through course Web pages. These will be hard priorities to set, and I am most grateful that the Standing Committee has so clearly framed them.

Information Technology

The Faculty has continued its enthusiastic advance in the use and exploitation of the new technologies within Harvard, while remaining properly insistent that the needs of teaching and scholarship must drive the application of these powerful methods, not the reverse.

The Harvard Arts and Sciences Computer Services’ undergraduate survey found last fall that 97 percent of our undergraduates own a computer, and 55 percent own a laptop. Most students agree that having lectures available online enhances their understanding of course material, and they take for granted the convenience of having on their course Web pages: course outlines, videos of lectures, images and illustrations, explicatory animations, audio extracts, access to printed and digital material from our libraries, handouts, and announcements. The Instructional Computing Group (ICG) is the principal resource enabling faculty to provide such enhancements to the classical lecture format. Every course in the Catalogue was given a Web site at the beginning of the academic year, and the ICG has developed an “Instructor’s Toolkit” that makes it simpler for faculty and their teaching fellows to supply and update the content on these sites as the term progresses, and to initiate and encourage discussion outside the classroom. Each term last year, more than 250 courses had active Web sites; this fall there were about 400. In more than half of their courses – and in almost all of their Core courses – students used Web sites for both educational and course administration purposes.

As e-mail is used increasingly for personal, professional, and pedagogical purposes, we are all more aware of issues of privacy (how easy it is, simply to forward a message), of etiquette (when the written word is unmodulated by tone-of-voice), of immediacy (one’s screen, like the telephone, has an insistence of its own), and of isolation. Our habits will settle, of course, but we should be mindful of these matters, and guide the settling process.

Project ADAPT. The financial systems of ADAPT are now in place, though Personnel Services and our Adapt Assistance Program continue to help our hard-working staff with the transition. The next phase will involve Human Resources, and this is currently planned for roll-out in January 2003. This module will accept personnel and appointment data from whatever system individual Faculties have chosen to use. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences should by then have fully adopted the Asperin (Arts and Sciences Personal Information) system, and we can hope that the transfer to the University-wide system in two years’ time will be seamless.

HERS2. The replacement of our old and fragile system continues to go well. This is the third year that Courses of Instruction has been produced using HERS2 (the Harvard Educational Records System), and the Registrar is now using the HERS2 Student Module for such things as courses completed, grades, honors, housing assignments, and addresses. The Freshman Dean’s Office and the College Housing Office use HERS2 for freshman proctor assignments and student housing, and the classroom module is used by the Registrar to assign instructional space for courses, sections, conferences, seminars, and other meetings. A new module for Advising Information is in prototype, and is being demonstrated to faculty, advisers, head tutors, and others. Beta testing is scheduled for this spring.

harvard@home. On the recommendation of the Faculty’s Committee on Information Technology, Harvard Arts and Sciences Computing Services is collaborating with the Harvard Alumni Office and the Harvard Magazine on a new pilot project. harvard@home will offer discussions with members of the faculty, online ‘tastings’ of Harvard courses, extracts from sporting and other events, and University news, to interested alumni/ae. The Faculty will, of course, be informed when the first offerings are ready, for the response both internally and externally will help to guide further activities along these lines. Other experiments in distance learning are being made by the Division of Continuing Education, and in addition to expanding our capabilities and experience, we expect to produce materials of value for our current residential programs.

Capital Projects

After more than 40 hours of public hearings before the Mid-Cambridge Neighborhood Conservation District Commission and others, by our architect Harry Cobb, by senior staff from Harvard’s Offices of Government and Community Affairs and of Planning and Real Estate, by members of our Faculty Planning Committee, and by our Physical Resources staff, the Center for Government and International Studies received conditional approval in October. Triggered by the generosity and foresight of Sid Knafel, this complex will provide about 250 offices, 130 carrels, 10 meeting rooms, 14 seminar rooms, and several new classrooms. The Government Department will be united, close to many of our international centers. There are still three regulatory processes yet to navigate – the Board of Zoning Appeals, the Planning Board, and the City Council – but the District Commission’s conditional approval is a very positive step forward. We plan to demolish Coolidge Hall in the early summer of 2002. The new home for University Information Services (which will be built on the corner of Oxford Street and Hammond Street) should be complete by the early fall of 2002, allowing removal of the present UIS building then to begin. This will allow the simultaneous completion of the north and south buildings, which we hope will be ready for occupancy by the end of calendar 2004. The wait will have been excruciatingly long, but the results will surely be worth it.

Construction of the new laboratory for the life sciences, now called the Bauer Life Sciences Building to honor the magnificent gift of $25 million from Charles T. (‘Ted’) Bauer ’42 for this purpose last November, will be ready for occupancy by the Bauer Center for Genomics Research in the spring of 2002. The Cabot Courtyard will be re-landscaped, and five service and delivery points in Cabot Way will be tidily consolidated into one, at the north end of Sherman Fairchild.

The architect Rafael Moneo has been selected to design the new physical sciences building, which will link McKay and Cruft, and house the Center for Imaging and Mesoscale Structures, some faculty research space, and several specialized areas including clean rooms, low electromagnetic-interference space, and low vibration laboratories. The site abuts the Music Department, and we shall take the opportunity of providing some needed additional space for it as well. Construction is expected to start in the spring of 2002.

The first and most dramatic phase of the Widener renovation project is on track for completion in June of 2002, when new environmental and life safety systems will have been installed on all 10 levels of the stacks. The arithmetic can be numbing, but this project will have involved moving 3.5 million volumes, and the installation of three miles of fire-alarm cable, 4,000 light fixtures, and four-and-a-half miles of ducts for air handling. We shall also have gained two large and gracious new reading rooms.

Planning is well advanced for a significant addition to the Science Center, the completion of which will remove the space constraints currently felt by Mathematics, Statistics, and History of Science, and the Collection of Historic Scientific Instruments. The Faculty’s Computing Services will also gain some urgently needed room.

I have mentioned earlier the major planning exercise that is being undertaken for the North Precinct, as well as our plans for the Hasty Pudding building.

Finally, by the time this letter is read, the occupants of Unversity Hall will have returned home. The impressive elegance of Charles Bulfinch’s masterpiece has been revealed, and this renovation completes the restoration of (almost) all the historic buildings in the Yard.

Next: Financial status