President Faust's 2012 Welcome Letter to the Community

Cambridge, Mass.

Dear Members of the Harvard Community:

The calendar still says summer, and so far the canopy of leaves overarching the Yard offers just a few flecks of yellow, orange, and red.  But the quickened tempo across campus says fall is here—and, with it, another year of institutional aspiration and, I hope, intellectual adventure.  Welcome to all the faculty, students, and staff new to our community—and welcome back to everyone else.

We enter the new year with a sense of momentum, building on some noteworthy strides in the past year.  Let me highlight some of them as we look ahead, with thanks to the many of you who have helped set them in motion.


Last fall marked the arrival of the Harvard Innovation Lab, launched on the premise that learning involves not just thinking but doing.  From the moment the i-lab opened its doors in Allston, it has generated a buzz of activity among students with an entrepreneurial turn of mind and with novel ideas they hope to put into practice.  Hundreds of students, faculty, and practitioners engaged with the i-lab in its inaugural year—from brainstorming meetings about start-ups, to workshops on intellectual property and web design, to mentoring sessions with experts-in-residence, to panels on diverse topics like artists as entrepreneurs and the delivery of services to the poor.  A “president’s challenge” invited students to envision ventures of high social impact in five categories—clean water, personal health, education, global health, and clean air.  The challenge induced a cascade of inventive thinking, attracting proposals from some 170 teams inspired by a will to do good in the world.  I look forward to initiating a new challenge in the year ahead.

Last winter we inaugurated the Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching—HILT—to spur innovation and collaboration across the University in how we teach and learn.  Harvard is commonly labeled a “research university.”  But we are no less fundamentally a teaching university, where education and research not only coexist but coalesce.  HILT’s opening symposium in February brought together dozens of faculty from different fields to explore how we can develop novel pedagogical approaches, how we can assess their effectiveness, how we can draw on insights from the advancing science of cognition, and how we can better exchange ideas across Schools and disciplines to assure that our teaching optimizes our students’ learning.  For the coming year, HILT will provide nearly fifty grants to support a range of pedagogical innovations.

This past spring, in concert with MIT, we launched edX, an online learning initiative to enhance the use of new technologies in our traditional teaching programs and to make Harvard’s educational resources more accessible to the wider world.  Much work lies ahead to develop the content and realize the promise of edX, in which the University of California, Berkeley, has now joined as well.  The first group of pilot courses is opening for enrollment this semester, as we and our partners plan a fuller array of offerings.  How to take fruitful advantage of promising technologies, while renewing what is best about traditional modes of teaching and learning, is one of the salient challenges facing all of higher education.  The edX venture positions us well to experiment creatively in the digital domain and to learn from our own and our partners’ experience—for the benefit of our students and, potentially, of people around the world with a web connection and an urge to learn.

These recent initiatives—to which each of us could add other examples—point toward larger developments across Harvard.  They suggest an appetite to experiment with new ways of doing things—a recognition that Harvard’s most enduring tradition is a capacity for thoughtful change.  They suggest a commitment to engage the larger world and to help meet its challenges in ways that a university distinctively can.  And they suggest a desire to pursue ideas along pathways unblocked by barriers of discipline or professional field—to experience Harvard less as an assemblage of discrete parts and more as an encompassing and navigable whole.


The academic year ahead will keep our attention focused on several ambitious campus projects essential to Harvard’s future.  We have now broken ground on the major multiyear program to renew the undergraduate houses at the heart of Harvard College life—with the renovation of Old Quincy under way and much more to follow.  This fall we will take important next steps in anticipation of filing a new institutional master plan for the gradual development of Harvard’s campus in Allston—with initial emphasis on plans for a health and life science center on Western Avenue, new housing and retail in Barry’s Corner, and other projects envisioned over the coming five to ten years.  Anyone who walks along Quincy Street in Cambridge will know that we are progressing with the long-anticipated renovation of the Harvard Art Museums, due to be completed in 2014—one of several current projects affirming the vital role of the arts within the University.  Nearby, as part of our Common Spaces initiative, we are transforming the plaza outside the Science Center into a campus crossroads that will support a lively mix of outdoor activities and community events.

The new academic year will mark the further implementation of the historic governance reforms adopted in December 2010, as the Corporation roughly doubles in size, as its new committee structure takes hold, and as our governing boards increasingly concentrate their attention on matters of long-term strategy, high-level policy, and issues that bridge different parts of Harvard.

We enter 2012-13 with a new organizational structure and shared-services model in place for the Harvard Library.  Special thanks to the many of you who have helped to advance this complex project, which will continue to demand close attention and careful judgments as we strengthen and renew the world’s foremost university library system for a new era.

The coming year will also involve intensified focus on the elements of a more purposeful international strategy for Harvard as a whole.  We aim to maximize our intellectual footprint internationally without creating a physical footprint larger than we need.  And we aim to identify some compelling foci for coordinated academic efforts abroad, even as hundreds of our faculty and students pursue a range of international activities already vast in their variety.  As our institutional opportunities for global engagement continue to multiply, it will be essential to undertake them with a clear eye on how they advance our larger academic aims and values, and how what we do abroad can complement and enhance what we do close to home.  Of course, edX will add an important dimension to Harvard’s reach around the world.

I can’t do justice here to the many educational initiatives under way across the Schools, but at the inevitable risk of incompleteness, let me note just a few.  The Business School is embarked on fundamental reforms of its MBA program, most notably with the introduction of its ambitious FIELD program—offering international Field Immersion Experiences in Leadership Development to all first-year students.  The Ed School, together with the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, has fashioned a new, highly interdisciplinary PhD in education.  The Law School has injected a new sense of community into the life of the School with the opening of a landmark building along Mass. Ave., featuring classrooms suited to its changing curriculum and space for its extraordinary array of clinical programs.

The School of Engineering and Applied Sciences is introducing a new master’s degree program in computational science and engineering, while the Medical School is initiating a comprehensive review of its preclinical curriculum in view of changing medical practice and educational technologies.  In Harvard College, the continuing efforts to enhance undergraduate learning—through General Education, mentored research, international experiences, and greater access to the University beyond the College—helped produce the highest admissions yield in more than forty years, with more than four-fifths of admitted students choosing to enroll in the Class of 2016.


As all this unfolds, we are busy planning for an ambitious fundraising campaign, with a public launch likely in late 2013. Preparing for the campaign presents an occasion to consider and articulate our paramount priorities, in an era when society depends more than ever on the education and ideas flowing from universities but when the funding sources available to universities are under mounting strain.

We should face the new year mindful that the University’s economic situation will continue to demand discipline in all that we do and will keep challenging us to make real and often difficult choices and tradeoffs as we contemplate near- and long-term activities and investments.  For Harvard, as for other universities, the outlook for sustained revenue growth is troubling: the markets remain volatile and uncertain; federal support for university research is at growing risk; net tuition revenues have flattened, largely as a result of our commitment to robust programs of financial aid.  We should look forward with confidence and ambition, but also with our eyes open to the realities of the sobering economic picture facing our university and others.

As we do, we are fortunate to welcome a complement of able new leaders helping launch this new year—most of them familiar from past roles here.  Xiao-Li Meng, the admired chair of the FAS Department of Statistics, has just taken up his duties as dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences; David Hempton, an eminent theologian, is our new dean of Divinity; and Lizabeth Cohen, a distinguished social and cultural historian, will start her first full year as dean of the Radcliffe Institute after serving as acting dean.  We also welcome Jonathan Walton, a dynamic scholar and preacher, as the Pusey Minister of Memorial Church and Paul Barreira, a valued veteran of the University Health Services, as the new UHS director.  Later this fall, Rick McCullough, a noted chemist from Carnegie Mellon University, will join us as vice provost for research.  He will work closely with Alan Garber, whom I especially want to recognize for his strong and forward-looking leadership during his first year as provost in 2011-12.


It’s the nature of a letter like this to highlight specific initiatives and plans, to accent what is changing and new.  But, as we do, we should step back and take a longer view.  We should measure our progress by how, over time, we shape and contribute to human understanding in its fullest sense, how we attend not only to the immediate but to the timeless.  New programs, new modes of teaching, new buildings, and new appointments are not ends in themselves.  They ultimately matter insofar as they advance our enduring academic purposes—to educate students to lead lives of meaning and value, to better fathom the world we inhabit, to conserve and interpret the knowledge of generations, to marry rigor and imagination in the pursuit of new ideas, to serve society in ways a community of learning singularly can.

And so, looking ahead to the coming year, I hope we will focus not just on the latest initiative or headline.  I hope we will look forward to the quiet moment in the library that leads to an intriguing idea.  The dining room conversation that prompts a common endeavor, or changes a long-held preconception, or creates a lifelong friendship.  The lab experiment that, after months of patient effort, yields a hoped-for discovery, or a serendipitous one.  The office encounter that generates a bright idea for streamlining a complicated process.  The crafting of an essay whose argument hangs together and whose expression rings true.  The stage performance that moves its audience beyond words.  The close reading of an abstruse text or the painstaking solution of a vexing equation that feeds our sense of wonder—that reminds us why we come together, as people have come together at Harvard for centuries, to pursue our curiosity with passion and without bounds.

May that sense of wonder infuse our work together in the year ahead.


Drew Faust