Burden Hall Should Not Be Demolished This Soon

Anant Vidur Puri, Contributor

The Issue

Burden Hall was supposed to be demolished after Klarman Hall became fully operational in 2018. Over the Summer of 2017, the administration decided to advance this demolition to mid-October 2017. The student body was not consulted until months after the decision had been taken. The HBS Student Association Senate first came to know of this acceleration early September. The wider student body was informed of this decision via email on 11th October. While the measures to ensure smooth functioning of events mentioned by the email are commendable, the fact remains that student involvement in this decision was limited and information was not communicated until much after the decision was taken.

On asking, two main reasons behind this decision were conveyed to the Senate. The first was to finish all construction work by October 2018 as opposed to February 2019 by simultaneously completing Klarman and demolishing Burden. This also avoids a major construction project in front of Klarman for up to a year following Klarman becoming operational. The second reason was that Shad gym is an effective substitute for Burden given the success of the RC Boardroom event last year. When several senators questioned the decision, the Senate was told that the decision had been made over the summer and could not be changed.

This decision effectively leaves Harvard Business School without a fully functional auditorium or a fully functional gym for almost 1 year. The following analysis goes what this decision really means for the school.

Student Conferences

Every year, HBS hosts over 20 conferences attracting, on average, ~ 500 people each. The largest such conferences include the African Business Conference (~1300 attendees in 2017) and the India Conference (~1100 attendees in 2017). Keynotes at these conferences typically completely fill Burden. With the advancement of this demolition, these keynotes would either need to happen in Spangler auditorium or in Shad. Spangler auditorium has very limited seating (~350) and would not fit the expected audience for these events. Shad will temporarily need to be equipped with inconvenient, foldable chairs to seat the audience. Moreover, there will be no gradient in seating, thereby compromising the quality of content reception. Some of the conferences are also attended by world leaders who are used to well-built auditoriums with world-class infrastructure. Constantly moving attendees from Shad to Aldrich (for other smaller talks and panels) also creates a logistical nightmare for the attendees as well as the organizers.

Cultural events

Akin to conferences, HBS students organize several events to showcase the ethnic and cultural diversity of the student body. Examples include Ekta – organized by the South Asian Business Association and Mosaico – organized by the LatAm club. Both events draw huge student participation and attendance. Ekta, for instance, had ~180 students participate in 12 different dances while ~330 students bought tickets to see them. These events require an elaborate stage, light, and sound infrastructure to be set up in addition to what Burden already provided. It is difficult to replicate the same in Spangler Auditorium or Shad. Again, a cultural show in a student gym quite takes away from the splendor of the performances and the hard work put in by the students.

Shad compromised

The administration has decided to use Shad to conduct all the events (conferences, cultural shows etc.) which would have otherwise happened in Burden. This decision compromises the fitness facilities available to the students. Whenever there is such an event, basketball courts and the indoor track would not be available to the students. For example, in the administration’s proposed plan, one basketball court will remain unavailable throughout the spring term. There is also a scenario where Shad basketball courts and track are unavailable throughout April due to rehearsals for HBS Show. The spring term is usually the one where students use the track and the indoor courts the most because of the harsh weather outside.

More construction on campus this year

The Burden demolition adds another construction zone to the 2017-18 academic year. In addition to the existing construction of Klarman and renovation of SFP, this implies even more construction on HBS campus this year. Specifically, the path from SFP and OWA apartments (which house ~40% of HBS students) to Aldrich and Spangler would become one narrow lane as both Klarman and Burden construction zones get isolated. More construction also means more pollution, disruption, and inconvenience to students this entire year. There is merit to phasing construction across a larger period of time to reduce the inconvenience caused to students.

The larger question

None of the student bodies were consulted or informed before taking this decision. It is quite surprising that the administration does not feel it owes the students any explanation or justification for excluding them from this decision. But again, this is not the first time such a thing has happened. Last year, a decision to change FIELD 2 dates was taken without informing or consulting the Senate. This resulted in FIELD 2 travel being placed before the final exams in the Spring semester. Students were unable to fully benefit from their cultural immersion as well as faced difficulty in preparing for exams given the 2-week gap between the last set of classes and finals. The Senate and the SA worked very hard to convey the voice of the students to the administration. This year, the administration has moved the FIELD 2 travel after the finals –  a change which has been appreciated by all. However, the choice to exclude students from this decision time and again reflects the importance HBS administration gives to the voice of students.

What now

The Senate has been informed that the decision has been made. The administration has approached Club leaders who organize conferences and/or cultural events to identify how to best replicate the Burden experience in Shad as well as to explore off-campus venues for some events. These initiatives are commendable and demonstrate their commitment to maintaining a healthy set of extra-curricular activities on campus.

In addition, the Senate is pushing for reimbursing part of the Program Support Fee and Shad Fee to students who will no longer have a fully functional auditorium or gymnasium through the school year. However, this does not take away from the fact that unilateral decisions made without consulting student bodies such as the Senate make us question their role in effective administration.

Anant Vidur Puri (HBS ’18) is originally from Chandigarh, India and graduated from IIT Delhi. Before HBS he was a venture capital investor with Bessemer Venture Partners in Bangalore, India.

*The author is a student Senator from EC Section G, as well as president of the South Asian Business Association. Views are personal and do not reflect the thought or view of any affiliated body or organization.