Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Harvard President Faust Misrepresents Boston Globe Story While Claiming Story Misrepresented Her Earlier Remarks

A Boston Globe story on Harvard's Allston planning has led to a charge, by Harvard's President, of mispresentation. In the end, however, it appears as though Faust is the only one who has committed any misrepresentation.

At the top of the front-page in today's Boston Globe, Linda Wertheimer reported:
The president of Harvard University, Drew Faust, showing restraint on a major expansion that her predecessor relentlessly promoted, plans to reexamine proposals to move two graduate schools and other operations from Cambridge to a new campus across the Charles River in Allston.

A $1 billion science complex, which will house a stem cell institute, will stay on track for a ground-breaking early next year. But everything else, including plans for building four undergraduate dorms in the Boston neighborhood, will be reviewed, Faust said in a phone interview Monday.
Aside from the extremely-inaccurate Globe graphic accompanying the story -- which was vastly incorrect on Harvard's land ownership in Allston, as well as missing at least one property (former Mahoney's) in Cambridge -- and the mis-statement by the reporter about "moving all or part of the ... School of Public Health across the river" (it's already in Boston's Longwood area, so it would stay on this side of the river), the story seemed reasonably reported, albeit not too Earth-shattering.

I read the story to say that Faust and company are carefully revisiting most or all of the details in their overall plans, using a more deliberative approach. In fact, it was a nice story, pointing out how it sounds like Faust will be consensus-building, as opposed her strong-willed predecessor who appeared to many people to have decided everything in advance.

This morning, Faust took to the airwaves at WBZ radio, claiming that the "story in the [Boston] Globe today seriously misrepresents what we're up to." She went on to say that "for it to be represented as a change of course or a reversal is simply a misrepresentation." [See full transcript below.]

The Globe story, however, at no time stated that this was a "change of course" or a "reversal," hence Faust appears to be the only one making a misrepresentation. Maybe Faust should apologize to the Globe for misrepresenting their story?

In fact, really all the reporter did was make an indirect quotation of Faust:
[Faust] said the university will take pains to consult more widely and deliberately with faculty and community members and, if necessary, revise the plan before giving the final version to the city next fall.
which doesn't sound like a "change of course" or a "reversal."

Faust also seemed to take objection to the word "delayed" in the story by stating that the planning was entered a natural "phase two." But the story referred to only the Allston art museum as being delayed, which is factually accurate: it has actually been delayed, as previously reported in the Globe. The overall master plan has also been delayed: it was submitted in January 2007, but the initial 30-day comment period is still open; Harvard chose to delay the master plan in order to deal with the science complex first. (That was the subject of the closed meeting with the Harvard Allston Task Force in February 2007 that lead to the Open Meeting Law complaint, etc.) The article continues:
Harvard's decision to delay the building of the museum in Allston and instead first renovate the Fogg and Busch-Reisinger museums in Cambridge was part of Faust's desire to slow the process and review the overall Allston plan, said Steven Hyman, provost.
Now we see that Hyman is actually the one claiming that the process is being slowed down and reviewed! Note that neither Faust nor Hyman have yet expressed that they have been misquoted, although both were only quoted indirectly, so they appear to stand by their statements.

Is Faust, by saying that the story "seriously misrepresents what we're up to," instead trying to debunk the story's premise that she will be consulting more widely than former president Lawrence Summers in planning for Allston? I hope not, because the story read to me like good PR by Harvard, not bad reporting by the Globe. Faust's talk on WBZ, on the other hand, looks like awful PR.

Maybe, instead, Faust just didn't read the story very carefully. Details matter.

EDIT: Harry Mattison has a full statement from Faust on his blog.


WBZ NewsRadio 1030 AM
December 12, 2007

Drew Faust, President, Harvard University
WBZ Deb Lawler, interviewer

FAUST: Let me just say that Allston is an enormous priority for us. It's moving along very well. The story in the [Boston] Globe today seriously misrepresents what we're up to. What I tried to say to the reporter is that we are now in a kind of phase two, which is a natural evolution. We have had the ground-breaking for the first science building. We are now involved in detailed planning for two professional schools that are contemplating moves. That means that we are developing their academic plans as a basis for developing physical plans -- that's the appropriate next step, and that's the step that we're pursuing.

And we also are preparing to file our revised master plan with the city, probably in the fall. As you may know, the Allston science building was built with special permission that made it possible fo us to do that before we receive the overall approvals. And so now, we're taking the appropriate step which is to go ahead and do that. There's no way in which we're slowing down. We're just pursuing a thoughtful, deliberative process that has many stages, as this will take many years, and we're in a stage that is the right stage to be in.

So, for it to be represented as a change of course or a reversal is simply a misrepresentation.

LAWLER: Harvard does need to expand, and this process you talk about as deliberative and doing things in their certain order, does that process include input from teachers, and professors, and students?

FAUST: Oh, of couse, yes. I referred to the Public Health School and the [Graduate] School of Ed[ucation], and their planning process which is involving faculty, students, staff from across those schools, that's how one develops an academic plan, and an academic plan is how one builds buildings and decides what it should be like. In the case of the science building, we have broken ground. We have identified the groups of faculty that are going to occupy that building, and they are involved in planning the spaces that they will be using within that building. So, yes, on every level.

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