PERFECTING THE HOUSE PLAN
Despite the fact that the number of men leaving the Houses this year is slightly smaller than in the last two years, an annual exodus is ample evidence that the House Plan has some undesirable aspects. Such a radical change in University life has had surprising success, but it is good time to take stock of the present situation, and consider carefully what changes are necessary.
The major difficulty is that the average Freshman knows little or nothing about the various Houses. Until after mid-years, they are virtually beyond his ken, and as a result he is all too prone to follow the herd and apply for either Eliot or Dunster, on the sole basis of their social merits. This tendency has not been lessened by the House Masters, who have frankly, and, in a sense, naturally, sought to obtain men whom they have known and liked, regardless of intellectual considerations. It is apparent that if the House Plan is to be a success, the Houses must be judged by some criterion other than social. For instance, Lowell has developed intellectual prominence, without a brilliant tutoring staff. Adams' strength lies in the fields of history and government, Winthrop's in the bio-chemical sciences Dunster's and Leverett's in economies, Eliot's in history and literature, If each House is permitted to develop its own atmosphere along these lines, the danger of a social criterion will be largely removed.
The University is becoming increasingly aware of the need of autonomy among the House Masters, but this awareness can have little effect unless some means are devised of enabling the Freshman to make an intelligent application. To give Freshmen an opportunity to see the life in the divers Houses, they should be granted inter-House eating privileges as has been proposed before. This proposal was made last year, but was defeated, apparently for no better reason than that several Masters were afraid of proselyting on the part of their confreres. Furthermore, a good deal of the mist with which the Houses are at Present enshrouded would be cleared away if each House were to publish a booklet, containing a list of available rooms, and a statement on the part of the Master concerning the comparative strength of his tutorial staff and the atmosphere of the House. Finally, there should be some way in which Freshmen might secure undergraduate opinion regarding the Houses. The Student Council could lend valuable assistance is attaining this end, and could in this regard easily supplement the efforts of the CRIMSON.
The Central Committee presents another problem demanding adjustment. Last year two or three Houses received far more applications than they could handle, and when it developed that the Masters were unable to arrange an equitable distribution among themselves the Committee was created. Its raison deter is thus a lack of agreement between the Masters, many of whom now protest that they have not sufficient freedom of choice. Ideally, the Central Committee should be abolished, but since this is apparently impractical, human nature being what it is, the Committee's function should be merely that of a referee board. It should draw up a set of general rules for the Masters to follow in their choice of students, and if the Masters are unable to abide by them, the Committee should then, but only then, assume control. The Committee has been far less dictatorial this year than last, and it is to be hoped that soon there will be no excuse for its existence.
The reason given by men leaving the Houses is in every case financial, but a distinction must at once be made between two types of financial reasons. There is first the student who is simply unable to pay the price demanded by the college for rooms in a House, and who is planning to live at home. By far the larger majority of those who are leaving, however, fall into a second group, composed chiefly of club men. That they are dissatisfied is obvious, and the present situation can be met only through cooperation, between them and the University. Such cooperation is eminently desirable, for many of them have definite contributions to make. Their problem, reduced to its simplest terms, is, that they have just so much money to spend during the academic year; (that they have more than the average student, is beside the point); their club dues come to at least $250 a year. By living in boarding houses in and around Cambridge, they can save anywhere from $100 to $200 on their room rent, and even more on their meals. The price charged by the University for twenty one meals a week is more than reasonable since one could not possible eat as cheaply in the Cambridge restaurants. But the club man naturally wants to eat fairly often in his club, and consequently he eats only ten of fourteen meals a week in his House. The trouble is that he must pay considerably more in this event, more, it is only fair to say, than the meals are worth. Accordingly, for so long as the present situation continues, club men are going to prefer boarding houses over the Houses, preferring to spend the money they save on other items.
It is more important, however, that the University lower the prices on House rooms for two reasons. The House Plan would thus be placed within the reach of more students, while the number of vacant high-priced suites in each House would be reduced. It would seem that $350 is enough to require of any student in these times, and it is certain that unless conditions improve appreciable, these suites will remain vacant. Whether or no the University foels it fair to lower the prices on only the most expensive rooms, without a general reduction, the fact remains that vacancies are a total loss to everyone.
Accordingly, these adjustments are necessary to the successful development of the House Plan: First Freshman must be enabled to apply for Houses on other considerations than social attraction; second, in considering applications each year the House Masters must realize that each House must be allowed to preserve its own individuality; third, club men and the University must recognize each other's existence, the former realizing that Harvard's purpose is educational, and the latter accepting the fact that every group in a university has its own contribution to make; fourth and last, prices on rooms must be lowered, especially those on high-priced suites. The crying used of the House Plan today is a greater willingness to cooperate on the part of all concerned.