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Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

John Harvard's Journal

University News Briefs

May-June 2015

Climate-change Currents

The Climate Change Solutions Fund—announced in April 2014 by President Drew Faust, and intended to channel $20 million into innovative research (see harvardmag.com/climate-15)—has made its first seven grants, totaling $800,000, for projects ranging from work on food waste (at the Law School) and coping with extreme heat events (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health) to work on energy and climate policy in China and India.

In mid March, Faust focused on climate issues during a capital-campaign “Your Harvard” event in Beijing; among the faculty members who appeared was professor of architectural technology Ali Malkawi, director of the Center for Green Buildings and Cities (described more fully at harvardmag.com/cities-15). Faust also spoke at Tsinghua University, where she highlighted academic partnerships, research, and training, drawing on examples from Harvard-Tsinghua collaborations on air pollution, the atmosphere, and global warming (see harvardmag.com/climates-15).

On campus, Harvard’s environment center has organized a series of climate-change events for the week of April 6-10, and the University convened an expert panel discussion on April 13 (see harvardmag.com/divest-15); both were scheduled to occur after this issue went to press. Separately, students campaigning for divestment of Harvard’s investment in fossil fuels staged a sit-in at Massachusetts Hall in mid February, and alumni supporters promised a more comprehensive action there for “Harvard Heat Week,” scheduled for April 12-17. Among the supporters is Archbishop Desmond Tutu, LL.D. ’79, a Nobel laureate and former member of Harvard’s Board of Overseers, whose campaigning against apartheid in South Africa famously led to his support for University divestment of investments in companies that operated there—a step then-president Derek Bok declined to take. The alumni advocates of divestment also announced a Fossil Free Alumni Fund, for donations to an investment vehicle designed by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The University would receive the proceeds “when the Harvard Corporation publicly commits to divesting from fossil fuels.” If Harvard has not committed to divestment by the end of 2025, the funds would be directed to tax-exempt climate-change organizations. A lawsuit challenging Harvard’s investment in fossil-fuel companies, brought by student divestment advocates last fall, was dismissed in mid March for lack of standing.

On Your Honor

Having adopted an honor code for undergraduates in May 2014, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences discussed its implementation (beginning this fall) at its meeting on March 3, and expressed hope of enacting the language and procedures for use during a meeting later this spring. Incoming undergraduates would be educated about the code, and would write a personal response to it upon matriculation, and students would affirm their awareness of the code at registration (without having to actually pledge their acceptance of it). For students’ signed affirmations for final exams, theses, and all other final papers and projects, the draft language suggests that faculty members “may wish to use” this text: “I attest to the honesty of my academic work and affirm that it conforms to the standards of the Harvard College Honor Code.” For details, see harvardmag.com/hchonor-15.

Separately, on March 24, Stanford provost John Etchemendy wrote to faculty members and teaching staff there about “an unusually high number of troubling allegations of academic dishonesty” reported during the winter quarter—one involving “as many as 20 percent of the students in one large introductory course.” He noted, “At the beginning of our students’ Stanford careers, they are introduced to the Honor Code and agree to abide by it.”

Olympics Ambitions?

As 100 inches of snow buried Boston and Cambridge from late January to early March, stranded commuters were not much focused on the 2024 summer Olympics. But the organizing committee promoting the city’s bid to host the games suggested several Harvard venues for competitions: field hockey in the Stadium (indicated as seating 30,000, although renovation plans call for that to be reduced significantly), fencing in the Gordon Track, and aquatics, water polo, and tennis in temporary facilities at “Beacon Yards”—an area the University hopes it may, by then, develop as a commercial “enterprise research campus” (see “A New Era in Allston,” March-April, page 18). Similar plans are sketched for Paralympic venues, including football, swimming, fencing, and tennis. In remarks to faculty members on March 3, President Drew Faust said that University interactions with local Olympics sponsors had been general and noncommittal, and that Harvard would maintain its academic, financial, and fundraising interests—and be mindful of impacts on its campus neighbors—in any future discussions, plans, or detailed submissions for a Boston-based event. Sports fans, stay tuned.

Fundraising Facts, Near and Far

The University announced that The Harvard Campaign had tallied $5 billion in gifts and pledges (toward the $6.5-billion goal) as of December 31, up from $4.3 billion as of June 30, 2014.

Not that other institutions are standing still: elsewhere on the fundraising circuit, Cornell alumnus Charles F. Feeney, who has given his alma mater hundreds of millions of dollars (including the lead gift for its New York City technology campus), gave the University of California, San Francisco, $100 million for its hospitals and research on neuroscience and aging, bringing his support for UCSF to $394 million. Roberta Buffett Elliott (sister of Warren Buffett) gave her alma mater, Northwestern, more than $100 million for global studies. A few weeks later, Northwestern alumnus and trustee Louis A. Simpson and his wife, Kimberly K. Querrey, gave $92 million, the naming gift for a new biomedical research center there; they earlier gave $25 million for medical research.

As an indication of the pace of contemporary fundraising, less than four years after concluding its $3.88-billion Yale Tomorrow campaign, that institution announced a snap $200-million Access Yale drive for financial aid, in part to support more undergraduates, who will be accommodated in two new residential colleges under construction.

And Princeton announced a nonmonetary gift: the bequest of rare books and manuscripts, including a Gutenberg Bible, a first printing of the Declaration of Independence, a run of Shakespeare folios, and important musical manuscripts. The donation, valued at $300 million, is the largest gift in the school’s history.

More on MOOCs

A two-year review of enrollments in 68 HarvardX and MITx MOOCs (massive open online courses) offered through their joint edX venture refined earlier findings. It confirmed that about half the people who register for a course subsequently do not engage with it at all. Focusing on those who do participate (about 1 million people, who became involved with 1.7 million course units through September 2014), researchers found a highly educated cohort (in every course, a majority of particpants had a least a bachelor’s degree)—among them a large number of teachers and instructors who may be incorporating the online materials in their own classes, magnifying the reach of the MOOC contents and techniques. Computer-science classes continue to be the most attractive subject area, garnering far larger enrollments than those in other fields. The report also suggests a transition from descriptive to experimental research that might begin to demonstrate how online students learn most effectively; it hints as well about the use of the online materials and techniques in campus-based classes—one of the initial aims of the edX enterprise. For a detailed report and discussion, see harvardmag.com/mooc-15.

Online Accessibility

The National Association of the Deaf and four deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals have filed suit against Harvard and MIT, alleging that their online content, including courses distributed through edX and recordings of speeches and presentations on campus, are not captioned, or are insufficiently accommodating, and thus are discriminatory, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other laws. The University, while declining to address the litigation per se, responded, “Expanding access to knowledge and making online learning content accessible is of vital importance to Harvard….We expect that the U.S. Department of Justice may issue proposed rules in June 2015 to provide much-needed guidance in this area. We look forward to the establishment of those new standards and will, of course, fully comply once they are finalized.” Separately, under a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, edX agreed to make its course offerings fully accessible to users with disabilities during the next 18 months.

Stockholder Sentiments

The Corporation Committee on Shareholder Responsibility’s annual report (http://media.www.harvard.edu/content/CCSR-Annual-Report-2014.pdf) details its decisions on 56 issues presented during the spring 2014 proxy season. In 51 cases, the committee concurred with the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility, a 12-member student, faculty, and alumni body. In general, the Corporation committee favored shareholder proposals for corporate actions to reduce greenhouse-emissions; strengthen environmental planning, monitoring, and reporting; and disclose political contributions and lobbying.