Harvard University Guidelines on Establishing Remote Locations


For decades, members of the Harvard community have engaged in an extensive array of academic activities abroad. Examples range widely – from archaeological digs to public health studies, from architecture and design studios to the development of business “cases,” from studying the cultures of different nations and people to providing policy advice to countries pursuing economic, legal, and other systemic reforms. Many of these activities have done much to strengthen Harvard’s programs of education and research, and to leaven them with insights drawn from experience in the larger world. As the University’s outlook becomes increasingly international, the intensity and variety of activities undertaken in other countries can be expected to grow and to reinforce Harvard’s commitment to a vigorous international agenda.

Traditionally, most academic activities conducted abroad have been carried on by individuals or small groups within the University, usually in furtherance of specific projects of limited duration. (There are notable exceptions, of course, such as Harvard’s Center for Italian Renaissance Studies at Villa I Tatti in Florence, Italy, and Harvard’s participation in the construction and operation of an astronomical observatory in Chile.) More recently, as the international dimensions of Harvard’s programs have continued to expand, interest has been expressed in Harvard’s creating a more substantial and durable institutional presence in places away from Cambridge and Boston, and particularly, although not exclusively, outside the United States. In some scenarios, this might involve the creation of institutional offices or other facilities in remote locations. In others, it might involve collaboration with universities or other institutions abroad – or other forms of institutional engagement. The variety and experience of Harvard’s past involvements abroad surely hold important lessons. At the same time, the fact of historical precedent is not in itself a sufficient warrant for similar practice today or in the future. As is often the case in Harvard’s decentralized environment, a number of projects have already moved forward, in a relatively ad hoc manner; the increasing number and scope of proposed undertakings abroad – and their possible implications for the University at large – suggest the need for a more coordinated and reflective, yet flexible, approach.

The question of how best to move forward in this area demands careful consideration. The University’s commitment to an ambitious international agenda cannot be fully realized without adequate opportunities for members of the community to learn, first-hand, about different nations and cultures. Often, in other words, there is no effective substitute for “being there.” At the same time, the University’s vitality as an intellectual community depends to a high degree on the bringing together of faculty and students in Cambridge and Boston, to learn together from one another. Often, in other words, there is no effective substitute for “being here.” The challenge, viewed from one perspective, is how to encourage the pursuit of serious learning about matters of international dimension without setting in motion centrifugal forces likely to induce diffusion, rather than cohesion, in the intellectual community that constitutes the University.

This memorandum explores some of the questions raised by the prospect of Harvard’s asserting a stronger institutional presence in locations remote from Cambridge and Boston in the years ahead. Without trying to frame rigid rules for the many different situations that may arise, we have aimed to provide general guidance on some of the principal considerations in approaching such endeavors. The question of Harvard’s institutional presence abroad, of course, represents only one facet of the University’s larger international agenda. What is more, matters of physical presence in remote locations are increasingly intertwined with matters concerning the possible “reach” of the University by means of networked computers and new information technologies. While the narrower question of physical presence in remote locations must be understood in this broader context, we believe that it warrants focused consideration now, at least in a preliminary way, so that evolving plans can take shape without delay.

There should be clarity from the outset about the substance and scope of any specific proposal to extend Harvard’s presence to locations remote from Cambridge and Boston.

Granted that the University’s core activities of education and research are closely intertwined with one another and often cannot be easily unbundled, it is nonetheless important to evaluate proposals for remote locations with the clearest possible understanding of what activities would – and would not – take place there. It is one thing to contemplate a small office that might enable members of the Harvard community to pursue research opportunities in a certain region more conveniently and cost-effectively. It is another to envision a remote location aimed at offering educational opportunities to local residents – or to students enrolled in our Cambridge or Boston programs who wish to add an international dimension to their course of study. It is still another to envision a remote location intended to serve as a base for providing policy or technical advice to local institutions, agencies, or firms – or for actually participating in the development or operation of such organizations.

Different kinds of activities will present different potential opportunities and concerns, which can be understood and addressed only if, from the outset, there is clarity about purposes and plans. Therefore, proposals to create locations abroad – and, for that matter, in domestic locations away from Cambridge and Boston – should clearly define the academic objectives to be served by the proposed location, and the particular activities or programs that would take place there. Of course, there is a tendency for such undertakings to evolve over time, and a location created to serve one purpose may, in time, seem fit to serve others. In such cases, it will be important to assess any significant proposed change of scope or function.

Activities conducted through remote locations should be closely tied to Harvard’s core academic purposes of education and research, and should adhere to our fundamental academic values.

Activities pursued through locations abroad – though remote in distance – should not be remote from Harvard’s basic academic mission. They should be closely integrated with existing programs of education and research, and designed to complement and strengthen those programs. They should, in themselves, serve substantial academic purposes – not be conceived merely, or principally, as ways to generate revenues to support other Harvard activities. They should enable members of the faculty better to pursue their fundamental work as teachers and scholars, and not distract them from such efforts. No less than activities undertaken in Cambridge and Boston, activities undertaken through remote locations must reflect a high level of vigilance regarding the use of the Harvard name, the importance of the free and open exchange of knowledge, and the affirmation of the highest standards of academic quality. Such aspirations are easier to state than to achieve. If there is doubt about whether such goals can practicably be achieved in the context of a given proposal, that doubt suggests the need for substantial caution, examination, and discussion.

Activities conducted through remote locations should be subject to mechanisms of oversight no less rigorous than those applied to activities here.

Overseeing geographically remote operations can create challenges for any organization, and Harvard is no exception. If the University is to assert a stronger institutional presence in remote locations, it must ensure that geographic distance does not inhibit effective oversight of such operations. It will be important to consider, in advance, how any formal undertaking in a remote location would be overseen by responsible officials in Cambridge and Boston – academically, financially, and otherwise – on the understanding such activities are no less integral a part of the University than activities based here. Indeed, the potential complexities of operating remote locations may well mean that officials in Cambridge and Boston should expect to devote more, not less, attention to their oversight than to comparable operations based here.

Proposals to create remote institutional locations should take in to careful account issues of cross-Faculty interest and concern.

Cross-Faculty coordination in this domain is essential. From an internal standpoint, a proposal being advanced by one Faculty or School may present opportunities – or difficulties – for another part of the University. It is important that such matters be recognized, and addressed, in advance. Careful thought should be given to whether any proposed remote location should be structured and portrayed as the undertaking of a particular Faculty or School, of some combination of Harvard units, or of the University. If proposals are conceived initially as undertakings of particular Faculties or Schools, it should be understood from the outset that other parts of Harvard may have an opportunity to join in the support and use of the physical location, subject to suitable Inter-Faculty arrangements, should such interests emerge.

From the standpoint of outside observers, care must be taken to avoid the appearance – and reality – of multiple “Harvards” operating in a single region, pursuing agendas that may appear not to be closely coordinated or even mutually informed. Especially in other countries, where relatively few people are likely to be familiar with Harvard’s highly decentralized structure, an activity undertaken by any one part of the institution has the potential to reflect on the institution as a whole. Inter-Faculty coordination is therefore important not only in reconciling various intramural interests, but also in ensuring both the perception and the actuality that the University deals with various external constituencies in a coherent and consistent way.

An additional layer of procedural complexity can emerge when efforts are made to explore possibilities for academic collaboration, or for the sharing of physical resources, among different parts of the University. To some extent, such complexity is an inevitable cost of seeking to realize the important potential benefits of Inter-Faculty cooperation. Nevertheless, if such cooperative pursuits are to achieve optimal results, it will be important that they proceed in a manner that takes into account the reasonable expectations of the proponent Faculty or Faculties for moving forward in a timely way.

Operations based abroad demand special attention to local requirements and customs.

Creating a physical location in another country, and even in other parts of the United States, can implicate numerous requirements – related to taxation, employment, real estate, licensing, and so forth – that are relatively unfamiliar yet must be observed. Any proposal to create such a location must ensure due attention to the local laws, regulations, and customs that may bear upon institutional activities conducted elsewhere. What is more, tensions may emerge between local laws or customs and Harvard’s own policies and academic values – with respect to such matters as non-discrimination against individuals; expectations regarding academic freedom; and the appropriate relationship between a university and its members, on the one hand, and various public and private institutions, on the other. Whether and how such potential tensions can be resolved may beat significantly on the merits of a specific proposal.

Proposals to establish institutional locations abroad – and indeed in other parts of the United States – have potential implications for Harvard as a whole, and should be presented for review and approval from a University-wide perspective by a committee appointed by the President and comprising the Provost and the Deans of several of the Faculties.

Local, faculty-based initiative has always been, and will continue to be, the driving force behind Harvard’s academic strength and its ability to adapt its programs to changing opportunities and needs. At the same time, as a number of the above considerations make clear, it is important that proposals to create a stronger institutional presence in remote locations be evaluated from a University-wide perspective.

Such assessment should be carried out by a committee appointed by the President. The committee should be chaired by the Provost and also include the Deans of several of the Faculties; it should seek counsel from members of the faculty and others as appropriate. It should have delegated authority to review proposals for institutional locations in remote locations, on the understanding that the President and Fellows may be called upon to consider particular proposals when circumstances warrant.

Given the intrinsic difficulty of articulating a detailed set of prescriptions in this area - beyond the sort of general considerations outlined in this document - the group will need to develop more specific standards through the consideration of particular cases. In so doing, it will want to consider not only proposals for new initiatives, but also Harvard’s experience with present and past ventures in remote locations. Although it is not envisioned that the group will conduct a formal retrospective review of specific projects already in place, the work of the group may well have concrete implications for how existing projects should be carried forward, modified, or revisited, in order to ensure that they advance the University’s academic purposes and minimize any attendant concerns. The group may also wish to consider whether present or proposed undertakings that do not have a finite duration – or that extend over a considerable number of years – should be the subject of periodic review. [1]

Proposals to enter into formal affiliations with other institutions – even if they do not involve the creation of a “Harvard” office or facility – should also be reviewed from a University-wide perspective, with many of the above considerations in mind.

When the University or one of its constituent parts contemplates a formal affiliation with another institution, many of the above considerations may come into play – even if the envisioned undertaking does not involve a physical space that would bear the Harvard name. In addition, somewhat different concerns and challenges may arise. How, for instance, can Harvard ensure that academic activities carried on with “partners” or “affiliates” in other places are consistent with the standards that Harvard sets for its own core programs? How can Harvard ensure that selective affiliations with particular institutions not inhibit the free exchange of ideas, or lessen our interchange with individuals in other (non-affiliate) institutions, by seeming to grant preferred status to some institutions but not others? What opportunity would Harvard have to exit gracefully from a partnership that has not met expectations, or has fulfilled its original purposes? Proponents of a specific affiliation should consider whether, in a given instance, the formality of an inter-institutional relationship is necessary to accomplishing the academic objective -- and if so, how the relationship can be structured to address potential concerns about quality, exclusivity, duration, and the like.

The proposed provostial committee should examine more fully the factors bearing on the advisability of entering into formal affiliations with other institutions. It should also consider what other circumstances – besides proposals to create remote institutional locations, or to enter into affiliations – would benefit from more focused review (e.g., activities that involve neither a fixed location nor a formal affiliation, but that would require a Harvard to “register to do business” in a remote jurisdiction).


[1] This group of Deans, chaired by the Provost, has been constituted and currently reviews proposals to establish remote locations. Please contact Assistant Provost Sean Buffington with questions. (12/99)