Like many of the details of University life under the House Plan, the question of the disposal of the Union is still in a distinctly fluid state. The decision of the Governing Board on the matter is as yet unmade and its effort to sound student opinion found the usual almost fifty-fifty verdict of Harvard. The discussion has been based on the assumption that future Freshman classes will be housed in the Yard, a measure evidently favored though not yet announced, and it is logical to view the subject on that basis, for the housing of the Freshmen elsewhere will not after many of its factors.
The Governing Board is entrusted with carrying out as far as possible the wishes of Major Higginson, the donor, who conceived of the Union as a general club for Harvard men, undergraduates, members of graduate schools, alumni. The vision of the founder has never been realized; his ideal of a huge gathering-place for half a dozen college generations is one beyond the possibilities or desires of Harvard individualism; but the functions of the Union are no less important for being more limited. Its fate is a concern of all the two thousand five hundred members.
Without changing the basic nature of the Union, there are three possibilities of its future. The first, its use as an all-Freshman club and commons, is too slight for consideration, since it is so definitely opposed to the policies of the Governing Board and the needs of the University. The second, the use of the Union as a commons for Freshmen while it continues as a University club, finds as much support as the last, the continuation of the Union on its present plan as a general club.
The House Plan will, of course, have a considerable effect on the upperclassmen's use of the Union. Dining halls in each House will take away for the undergraduate the importance of the Union's Dining Room; common rooms may supplant somewhat the social functions of the Living Room, the Reading Rooms, the Recreation Rooms. Still, there are quantities of men in the University unaffected by the House Plan. For the graduate students uncared for in dormitory dining halls, the Union is a sufficient substitute. For commuters, the Union offers its lounges and Dining Room. For the unHoused, who will, especially in the first years of the House Plan, be numerous, the entire building is of unique value. And for the rest of the students, who do find places in the new system, the Union will still supply an excellent library, and recreational advantages that will otherwise, even then, be possible only for club members. Statistics show that the Union's financial soundness is totally independent of the Dining Room with any regularity; and this is the part of the Union that will be most affected by the new regime. Its social and recreational importance may be much greater under the House Plan than now, unless the wisdom of Jove guides the selection of those living in the same House.
Alteration of the Union to form a Freshman commons could be accomplished only at great expense, and the construction of another of those annexes whose aesthetic quality is so generally questionable; and, when this new portion has been built, the Freshman commons will not, under any conditions of dwelling, be centralized. Even Memorial Hall is less distant from the Yard dormitories than the Union and still Memorial's poor position is one of the arguments for constructing an entirely new dining hall. The influx of eight hundred Freshmen to the Union three times a day would tend, even without the exclusion of other men, to change it into a more or less completely Freshman Club; and the quantity of recreational space, even in a reconstructed building, argues that one group will be submerged by the other.
The faint possibility of making the Union over to a lecture hall indicates that the apparatus of a dining hall may easily be superfluous.
Tradition, sentiment, the hopes of the founder, all have their weight on the side of an independent and communal Union, and against an all-Freshman or a hybrid Freshman-upperclass-dining-common room scheme. Practicality is of far greater moment, and the need under the House Plan of such a general club as the Union now is, especially during the difficult initiation of the new, is self-evident.