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Debate swirls about fate of oak tree at Harvard Divinity School

Some students at Harvard Divinity School are upset about the school’s plans to take down this tree.
Some students at Harvard Divinity School are upset about the school’s plans to take down this tree. (Joan Maloof)

A red oak tree is at the center of a contentious debate at Harvard Divinity School.

The tree is set to be removed to make room to renovate and expand Andover Hall, but not everyone is happy about it, according to the Harvard Crimson.

Shane Brodie, a graduate student at Harvard Divinity School, is hoping the tree will be saved.

“It’s an older tree,” Brodie said in a telephone interview. “It’s really massive.”

Brodie worries that school administrators aren’t listening.

“We were not only upset about the decision about the tree, we were upset by the process,” he said.

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Jade R. Sylvan, a second-year master’s student at Harvard Divinity School, echoed those sentiments in a recent op-ed in the Crimson.

“To many of us at the Divinity School, the decision to kill a living being older than any of us for a new cafeteria feels like a betrayal of the school’s goals, one of which is ‘to commit to ecological sustainability and good environmental stewardship,’ ” Sylvan wrote. “If we cannot defer to the sanctity of life here on our small campus, how can we purport to do so in the world?”

The Crimson reported that school administrators plan to “replace the canopy lost by the tree” and want to have discussions on how to best “process and mourn its removal.”

“We’re all deeply sad about this, there is no one happy about the fact that the tree is going to have to come down,” Divinity School Dean David N. Hempton said in the Crimson article. “We want to do the right thing for people to give proper expression to that sadness.”

In a statement e-mailed to the Globe, Harvard Divinity School officials said the project will be the first comprehensive overhaul of Andover Hall since it was built in 1911 and will provide much-needed modernized classrooms and flexible spaces for students and faculty while also improving the overall safety, accessibility, and efficiency of the building.

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“HDS has determined that in order to achieve its goals of creating much-needed new pedagogical, collaborative areas and multi-faith space, the red oak tree in the cloister will need to be removed,” school officials said in the statement.

Harvard Divinity School officials also said they are proud of the school’s commitment to sustainability and noted other ways that the school has added trees to the landscape.

“Throughout the past decade, it has contributed significantly to the tree canopy of Cambridge by planting 123 trees across its campus, while only removing four unhealthy and potentially unsafe trees,” the statement said. “It also recently converted a surface parking lot into a landscaped campus green that is open to the public, created a tree-lined walkway from Andover Hall to Divinity Hall, and replanted and modernized its campus gardens, ensuring they are both sustainable and fully accessible.”


Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.