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."

But again--as with the myth of summer-time Cambridge--the "summie" stereotype can be misleading. Summer school admission is far from rigorous, which is the way the administration like it, but still, as Crooks points out, "we have to produce a student body that the facultly is happy to work with." And to an extent which would probably surprise most "winter" people, he has.

Visiting faculty members often tell him that their summer school course was "the best class I ever taught." Regular Harvard faculty members are occasionally more skeptical--"any teacher who looks out and sees a class with a high school junior and a Jesuit Father won't know quite what he's talking to," Crooks comments. But Harvard Faculty members too are often pleasantly surprised. One Harvard professor, who taught a popular summer school course with about two-thirds non-Harvard enrollment, recalled that "I was prepared for a disappointment, but it turned out to be some of the most rewarding teaching I've ever done."

If you wanted to maintain the Harvard snobbery, you could explain the "summies" performance by theorizing that during the summer Harvard-Radcliffe under-achieves, while the "summies" over-achieve. But you do not have to put it in those terms. The summer school students are impressed by Harvard, and by being at Harvard, and so take the school and themselves seriously. They study, they work hard (one Cliffie who shared a dormitory suite with three "summies" remembers that they were surprised by and even disapproving of her erratic study habits) and they do well--69 per cent of the grades last summer were A's and B's, and 71 per cent of the students received at least one honors grade.

The admissions policy reflects the role which the administration has always seen for the school. It is pretty much open-door. Before 1962 it was completely so, and the only requirements were a high school diploma and a completed application form. But things were beginning to get out of hand, so Crooks, who has been Director since 1960, added an application deadline and required approval of a student's program of study by his home college. That first year, enrollment fell by 500.


Crooks sees a "three-fold mission" for the Summer School, actually a kind of mission civilatrice for Harvard. First, he says, is the obligation of a university--any university--to be at work as much as possible: "Why shut down this magnificant plant all summer long?" Then there is Harvard's special role as one of the few liberal arts summer schools in the New England region, serving students who could not otherwise go to summer school. And finally there is the desirability of "people from all over the world having at least one Harvard experience."

Planning for the next summer's sessions begins in September, when Crooks meets with all the Harvard department chairmen and outlines the school's basic needs. Course offerings and faculty are up to each department, and Crooks himself exerts little direct pressure. "The departments know what fields they ought to cover, and they don't want much help," he points out. The number of courses has increased from 151 to 191 in the last five years. Most of the growth has come in languages and in offerings from architectural science, Celtic, history of science, and the Carpenter Center, which last summer drew a record 113 students to its courses.

Finding a faculty is something more of a problem than filling the course catalogue. Departments usually try to staff their courses with their own people, and last year 100 of the 191 summer school faculty members held academic-year appointments at Harvard, 30 of them permanent. Much of the visiting faculty, Crooks notes, is "actually more Harvard than it looks," since many of them have had either Harvard training or previous teaching experience here. The catalogue, complete with courses and staff, must go to press in January. "We always end up with a faculty, and we're always surprised." Crooks says, but he emphasizes that "the departments will not take anyone second-rate."


What awaits them, those students who arrive in July with that carefully prepared catalogue, 170 pages bound in dignified gray. Each is seeking his or her Harvard: do they find it?

They do, of course, in a concrete sense. Harvard is here, population changed but not very much diminished, business as usual in the Union and Lamont, "winter" students occupying their Eliot House suites, plays on the Loeb mainstage, presses running at the CRIMSON. But they see Harvard as one who stops at Churchill Downs in December and then says he has seen the Kentucky Derby.

What strikes you first is the lack of activity. The Summer News, a twice-weekly newspaper which the university pays the CRIMSON to publish, is filled with reviews, speech stories, features on the Newport Folk Festival, articles about Congressional hearings the draft, the peace campaigns, the Lampoon's janitor being beaten up. But it all seems distant, out of reach and somehow totally irrelevant to a life which centers around the green of the Yard and the grass of the River, to a university which serves lemonade on the lawn every Wednesday afternoon and maintains a "social and information" center with a fulltime staff in Matthews Hall. (The social director, last year a graduate student and this summer a class of '67 Cliffie, organizes mixers, tennis tournaments, trips to the Cape, and "amazingly successful" tours around historic Boston.

And then there are the rules. Almost no Cliffies and almost all "summies" live in Summer School housing, which uses many of the Yard dorms and the new wing of Quincy House. There are no parietals in either the girls' dorms or the graduate dorms, where summer school boys live. Last summer--the rules may be up for limit revision this year--girls had to be in by 1 a.m. on week nights, 2 a.m. on weekends. They are allowed three "late night" permissions for the entire summer, subject to prior blanket permission from their parents and specific authorization from their proctor, usually a graduate student.

The rules are enforced with a ferocity that would do an old-time Radcliffe dorm committee proud. One "summie," who lived near Boston went home for a weekend without signing out. She was not caught, but told her proctor of her mistake anyway. The proctor sent her to the Dean of Women who, instead of thanking her for her honesty; issued a stern reprimand and told her that her of-