The Summer School Mystique: Thousands Come Every Year In Search of Harvard

By 4:00 this afternoon, probably more than 2000 Harvard and Radcliffe students--undergraduates and graduates--will have filled out the no-commitment, pre-registration cards for Harvard Summer School, 86th session, July 3 to August 25, 1967.

Not all of them will show up again in July, of course. But last summer 1416 of them did, and they were only 30 per cent of the record 3842 college students, high school students, graduates, and non-students who came to school at Harvard.

Why do they come? What is there about a sun-baked plot of crabgrass called Harvard Yard that summer after summer draws people from 50 states, 77 countries, and 415 colleges to the banks of a smelly river? What transformation does the summer solstice effect to make "staying-in-Cambridge"--and even submitting to blue books and reading lists--the thing to do for at least one, and maybe even two or three summers of one's Harvard career?

There are, of course, the academic reasons. Despite constant criticism from other universities, Harvard will allow its students academic credit only for courses taken at Harvard Summer School ("We just don't know how to evaluate the programs at other schools," Dean Monro explains) ;so if there is a reason for a Harvard student to take summer courses, he will be taking them here. Accelerating, making up deficiencies, enduring the martyrdom of 34 hours a week of Chem 20--these are some things that keep Harvard students at Harvard Summer School. And for the others, whose own colleges may or may not have summer schools but undoubtedly accept Harvard credits, Harvard is--well, Harvard.

But that is obviously not the only, or even the main reason for record enrollments year after year. For those who are under no pressure to earn money, summer school is one alternative among several, like a job, or travel, or loafing (which, statistics show, almost no one does--or at least not without listing it under "travel.") It keeps you away from home but lets you live in a sociable place where the friends--and the action--are familiar. Taking a course or two makes the summer respectable, regadless of whatever else keeps you in Cambridge.

The Mystique

And underlying it all is the mystique of summer-in-Cambridge. Ask anyone who says he knows, and he will conjure up images of effortless pick-ups by day-all those sweet little girls who come to Cambridge to get a Harvard man of their very own--and endless parties by night in the enclaves--Putnam Square, Harvard Street, Porter Square--where Harvard and Radcliffe students tend to cluster. Like all such legends, some of the Cambridge summer-time stories are true and some are not--or, more accurately, they are more true for some than for others. Still, the mystique is what draws, shinging like a beacon as April drifts into May and pre-registration time comes around again.

Who are those 4800 people who arrive in the Square the day before the Fourth of July? They are, first of all, those who can afford to come. Summer School itself is not overly expensive: registration costs $25, each half-course is $165 (the usual load is two half-courses), and the fee for auditing varies from $20 to $110 a course, depending on the rest of the program. But there are living expenses, too: almost all the non-Radcliffe girls, and many of the non-Harvard boys, live in the dorms, where room and board is $270.

Thomas E. Crooks, Director of the Summer School, calls the tuition "the lowest of any school of our quality that I know of," but to that must be added the opportunity cost. If you go to summer school you can probably not man-age a full-time job, and scholarship students are required to earn money during the summer. Crooks would like the Financial Aid Office to interpret that requirement more flexibly, but the Summer School itself controlis no scholarship funds.

Aside from the financial profile are the statistics. Last summer there were 321 Harvard undergraduates, 98 Cliffies, and 952 Harvard graduate students. There were 1852 undergraduates from other colleges, mostly north-eastern liberal arts schools; 1301 non-Harvard graduate students; 77 high school seniors; and 196 other people "neither working toward nor possessing any degree."


And beyond that are the legends again. Ask a summer school veteran what the "summies" are like and you will get a studiedly smirking grimace and--depending on his sensibiliites--either some variaiton on "not quite the calibre" or a hasty disclaimer like "Well, I didn't actually see too much of the summer school people." "It's funny," one Cliffie said typically, "but everyone I met in my courses was Harvard or Radcliffe."

Summer school in fact seems to evoke all the Harvard-Radcliffe sense of community that is missing the rest of the year. But it is community in a negative and at times rather ugly sense, bringing to the surface a kind of Harvard snobbery that either hurts or greatly amuses those others who come to Cambridge looking for Harvard. At the beginning of last summer, some clever entrepreneur sold "I Go Here in the Winter" buttons to those who could furnish appropriate proof, but there are subtler ways--an abbreviation dropped here, a bit of history recalled there, a nickname spoken ever so casually in the Yard--to make the point, and everyone becomes adept at the game.

The reaction to the "summies" is not difficult to understand. Certainly not all the girls are dumb--Wellesley sends probably the largest contingent other than Radcliffe--and not all of them tease their hair, wear too much makeup, speak in raucous Brooklyn accents, or sport tight Harvard sweat-shirts. But you notice those. "You don't realize how attached you are to this place," a Harvard junior explained, "until you see it being raped." A Cliffie commented, "During the winter you share Cambridge with 5000 of your own kind, so you don't feel terribly close to it. But in the summer you're one of the happy few fighting off the invaders."

The same Harvard students who speak of the "summies" with scorn admit to having joined the "competiton for the bunnies"--as one put it--with relish. (Actually, the boys out-numbered the girls last year by more than 400.) Director Crooks, who views the scene with ironic humor from his seventh-floor office in Holyoke Center, remarks that "Some Harvard students wear those 'winter' buttons and keep to themselves, but some plunge right in and enjoy it."