The Housing Crisis: Chickens Are Roosting
1973 WAS a year of crisis for the Harvard housing system, and the coming 12 months promise little recovery. The disease undermining the system will not go away of its own accord, and its symptoms--overcrowded dorms, unbalanced freshman House applications and a growing reluctance among undergraduates to live at Radcliffe--will return in more virulent form next year unless the University quickly prescribes some much needed medicine.
Pointing a finger at the culprit is virtually impossible. Many different ingredients constitute the mess: the 2.5 to 1 sex ratio arising out of Harvard's non-merger merger, the housing shake-up performed in March by the Committee on Houses and Undergraduate Life (CHUL), a possible reversal of the recent trend toward leave taking, a small senior class and the inadequacy of the present plan for assigning freshmen to Houses. Any one of these reasons could have made the roof cave in this Spring.
And cave in it did. When the Housing Office distributed freshman housing assignments for the Class of 1976 in mid-May, a record 15 per cent of the freshmen--compared to only 10 per cent the year before--discovered to their misery that they had not been assigned to any of the five Houses they had listed on their application. In addition the number of freshmen assigned to their first-choice Houses dropped from 49 to 45 per cent because a few Houses received most of the applications. As a result, 45 per cent of the men not assigned to one of their first five choices were grouped in one of four undersubscribed Houses.
One hundred twenty men and 18 women who had not designated the 'Cliffe as one of their choices, were assigned to Radcliffe. This set off the loudest uproar. Most vocal in this angry group were approximately 35 athletes who stood firm on what they called their "right to choose between Radcliffe and Harvard." To solve the situation, the athletes proposed, CHUL should reverse part of its March decision and allow sophomores unwilling to move to Radcliffe to live in Claverly Hall this Fall and in Harvard Houses the following year.
CHUL budged, but not far enough for the adamant freshmen. Although the Committee agreed to ease restrictions on Fall term transfers and thereby facilitate sophomore transfers from Radcliffe to Harvard next year, it refused to reopen Claverly to upperclassmen.
(CHUL decided in March to convert Claverly to an all-freshmen dorm.)
While the Yardlings were protesting for their "rights," another housing dispute, centered around over-crowding in Houses, was also building quickly. Secretaries in four Harvard Houses--Quincy, Mather, Leverett and Winthrop--protested vehemently to The Crimson that overcrowding would reach serious levels in their Houses next year as the result of the influx of unprecedented numbers of sophomores.
One House secretary, Susan Loth of Quincy, said at the time, "We just have an awful lot more bodies than beds here." She added, "They [the Dean's office] have got to do some switching around and encourage people to live off-campus."
Understanding the Harvard housing system, with its various quotas and ratios, is as difficult a chore as grasping all of the ins and outs of the Watergate scandal. But as in the case of the bugging controversy, it is most useful to start one's explanation at the top. In this case, President Bok's provisions for a 2.5 to 1 male-female ratio at Harvard. Proposed in early October 1971 and implemented with the current freshman class, the plan provided for an increase in the number of freshman women from slightly over 300 to about 450 while simultaneously reducing the incoming men from over 1200 to between 1150 and 1175. The effect of these changes would be an addition of about 300 undergraduates to the College by 1977.
This year, to accommodate the first load of 75 freshmen, half of the renovated Hotel Continental was opened to undergraduates. Next year the Continental, which is eventually to accommodate only graduate students, will be completely open to undergraduates in order to absorb the addition of another large class.
In Fall 1974 the new dormitory, being constructed on the site of Hunt Hall--to be named Canaday Hall--will accommodate about 200 students. However, if the Continental is taken over by graduate students as planned, 225--not 200--spaces will be necessary to accommodate the 150 from the Continental and the third large class. The fourth year will present even graver difficulties, with both the 25 left-over unaccounted-for students and the fourth and final addition of 75 students overcrowding the system even more.
At this point neither Dean Whitlock nor Genevieve Austin, assistant dean of Students (at Radcliffe), know where the additional 100 places will be found.
Down the Administrative ladder lies the event which has taken most of the blame for the mess, although it is probably one of the less significant instigators of the housing mess: the CHUL housing shake-up in March. At that time, Radcliffe CHUL members agreed to drop their strict insistence on maintaining a 1 to 1 sex ratio at Radcliffe and to allow a decrease--1.18 to 1-- in the number of women at the 'Cliffe. In return for that concession, the Harvard CHUL members agreed to absorb 82 spaces from Radcliffe and also to convert 100 places at Radcliffe usually held by freshmen into upperclass rooms by converting Claverly into a freshman dorm.
What this conglomeration of figures means is that next year Radcliffe will be about one-fourth freshman instead of one-third, its male-female ratio will be somewhere below 1.3 to 1 (not 1.18 to 1 as originally planned), and over-crowding in North and South Houses will be eased with the probable elimination of sophomore one-room doubles and so-called economy doubles.
Harvard, on the other hand, will be required to accommodate between 50 and 60 additional spaces (the number 82 was revised out of necessity by the Housing Office). But the "good" ratio Harvard Houses--Adams, Dunster, Lowell and Quincy--will retain their current sex ratios, and the "poor" ratio River Houses will be guaranteed at least a 4.5 to 1 ratio. Eventually, by the academic year 1975-76, the poor ratio Houses are slated to have ratios of 3 to 1.
A THIRD trouble-maker in the housing scandal is what Dean Whitlock calls the "unreal" number of students returning next Fall from leave. This is part of the reason "why the House secretaries are tearing their hair out," Austin says. As of June 1, 160 undergraduates had notified the College that they will return to Harvard in the Fall, the highest number to notify the College by that date in Dean Whitlock's memory.
Whitlock fears that the large number of returnees may signal a reversal of the trend toward leave-taking, a trend which began during the upheavals of the late sixties. "There can always be a fluke, students can always stop taking leave," he said. The number of students on leave jumped from 372 to 437 last year while the volume of returning students increased 52 to 418. Both of these statistics cover an entire year.
Yet another component in the housing problem was the increase in Radcliffe--because of 2.5 to 1--at a time when more women want to live in Harvard Houses. This change from past years was most prevalent among the 200 freshwomen in the Yard. Only 10 freshwomen designated a Radcliffe House as one of their choices, and only 3 put a Quad House as first choice. If these women had not been in the Yard, many more probably would have reacted like their classmates at the 'Cliffe this year. Of these 250 freshwomen, 111 designated Radcliffe as their first choice, while 63 of the 150 male 'Cliffe dwellers asked to remain in one of the Quad Houses. Last year, in fact, the Housing Office received criticism when it compelled 40 freshwomen to move from Radcliffe to the River Houses against their will.
The most serious culprit in House overcrowding, according to Bruce Collier, who programmed the computer which made House assignments, is the small size of the class graduating today. Collier predicts that the number of undergraduates entering the housing pool next Fall will be 140 students larger than this year, with half of that increase--caused by the second year of 2.5 to 1--taken up by the second half of the Continental. However the Houses will have to absorb the 70 additional students, in addition to the 50 or 60 undergraduates spots from Radcliffe. Although the result will be over-crowding in many Houses, Collier says, the situation will not be as serious as it was in the sixties before the construction of Mather House.
At the beginning of the year, the so-called "start-up" figure will be about 10 per cent higher than the standard figures for each House. However, while half of this figure is permanent, the other 5 per cent will disappear, Dean Whitlock says, as students move off campus and others take leaves or live in the Yard as upperclass advisers. However, if leave taking does decrease and Harvard cannot guarantee its students a bed, the College will compel undergraduates returning from leave to live off campus and grant rooms to returnees only on a first-come, first-serve basis.
When will this situation arise? Dean Whitlock admits, "We will have to face it some day, and we may have to face it next year."
Harvard's apparent inability to study the entire problem of housing before this crisis is as distressing as the actual symptoms of the system's malfunctioning. Harvard has failed to formulate long-range policy but instead has relied on often-delayed stop gap measures to partially head off greater disaster. A study of the House system and freshman assignments being conducted this summer by the dean of the College's office is inadequate without parallel action by other facets of the Administration, including among others, the University's fund raisers, planning office and freshman dean's office.
Dean Whitlock observes critically that Harvard's lack of enlightened action in dealing with housing problems is the result of "a tradition of not setting policy the way General Motors does, therefore it [Harvard] tends not to set priorities. If you're going to set priorities, you've got to make policies." Whitlock continues to point out that "because we make ad hoc decisions, no one can tell what the total effect [of the 2.5 to 1 ratio plan] is going to be on the size of the College."
This is indeed what Harvard has done: it has committed itself to increasing by 300 the size of the College without adequately preparing for the effects of the influx of additional undergraduates. The new dorm will compensate for some of the increase but not all. Plans for construction at Radcliffe or a 65-70 student addition to Kirkland House are meaningless until Harvard or Radcliffe receive sufficient funding to complete the construction.
This heavy dependence on large gifts to the University directly contradicts the President Bok's statement announcing the 2.5 to 1 plan. Bok wrote at that time: "In order to accommodate the added students, efforts would be made to provide new housing through methods of financing that would remove the need to raise substantial capital gifts. Such housing might not contain all the special features associated with a Harvard or Radcliffe House. Instead, an effort would be made in consultation with interested students to develop new housing styles attractive to the small minority that will inevitably prefer alternatives to any form of accommodations, even one as attractive as our Houses provide."
Harvard does need substantial capital gifts, and this urgent need for funds continues to place the College at the mercy of donors whose idiosyn- crasies--as in the case of the new dormitory which would have been more useful at Radcliffe--may require the adoption of an unwise construction plan. In the meantime Harvard students have little choice but to tolerate overcrowding.
MANY HAVE attributed the injustice of the system to the concept of the heterogeneous House, which demands that each House have a certain percentage of men and women, of students majoring in the three areas, of the different grade ranks, and of public and private scholars.
The real villain, however, is the House application system itself and the House stereotypes which it helps perpetuate. Freshman spend a year evaluating each House and learning the reputation, advantages and disadvantages of each House. By the arrival of Spring and of the assignment process, the stereotypes, whether valid or in most cases grossly exaggerated, have been passed on to another generation.
The College dean's office will be examining alternative assignment systems this month, and according to Dean Whitlock, three possibilities will be considered. First, should the number of restraints on the computer--such as the field of concentration, the secondary schooling of the applicant or even his or her sex--be reduced? Should Harvard run a straight lottery at the end of the year, a proposal which Whitlock correctly observes, "doesn't fit into the Harvard way of doing things?"
The final and probably most valuable alternative is the housing assignment system employed by Yale, which provides for affiliating freshmen with colleges (Yale's name for Houses) before the new students arrive in the Fall. Yale has succeeded in eliminating college stereotypes, although the colleges retain "a special flavor," and John A. Wilkinson, Yale's dean of Undergraduate Affairs says, this is a result of integrating freshmen into colleges early.
Yale's assignment-system changeover, in the early sixties, constituted only a portion of the Yale Faculty's decision to end the separate freshman year because it "in fact thwarted the students' intellectual and emotional growth," Wilkinson said. Now freshmen are integrated into the colleges, where they eat all breakfasts and weekend meals, as well as several weekday lunches and dinners. In addition, the freshmen receive all of their academic counseling from the staff of their college.
"The freshmen identify with it [their college] almost immediately," Wilkinson observed.
In order to combat stereotyped trends under the new system, Yale has added special attractions to the less popular colleges. When Yale's version of the Co-op moved to one end of the campus, Timothy Dwight and Silliman Colleges at the other end of the campus were opened up to freshmen.
The experiment of placing freshmen in colleges immediately has been so successful that Yale is contemplating placing all new students in colleges while placing seniors in the Old Campus or off-campus.
SUCH A step is not the answer to Harvard's problems, but the Yale system has managed to do away with many of the drawbacks which cripple Harvard's assignment plan. At Yale freshmen do not have a year to dig up every stereotype but instead spend their first year becoming involved in their college. By assigning Houses in the summer Harvard could virtually eliminate most stereotypes.
The Yale system could conceivably be adopted this summer in time for the arrival of the Class of 1977, but institution of the Yale system should be delayed until Harvard decides on the future of its concept of a separate freshman year and on the merger with Harvard and Radcliffe. When the College evaluates the Yale system it would have to consider whether counseling duties should be shifted from the freshman dean's office to the Houses. Yale's integration of freshmen into colleges has overloaded the college staffs and at Harvard, where there is only one more House but a much larger student body, freshmen could swamp the House staffs. Either the freshmen dean's office will be maintained or Harvard must build additional Houses or increase considerably House staffs to deal with the influx of freshmen.
However, if the freshman's dean office is maintained--which seems likely--portions of the Yale system might be instituted. Freshman could eat weekend meals at their assigned House, and they could participate in House intramural athletics.
Although the Yale system might increase the number of people who want to live at Radcliffe it would not end completely undergraduate reluctance to room "up at Radcliffe." This reluctance is based on the geographical location of the Quad as well as the difference between the quality of housing here and in the Harvard area.
The problem can be solved only by making Radcliffe more attractive. A free shuttle bus would eliminate much of the geographical problem; students could journey to and from the 'Cliffe quickly and, at night, safely. Increasing the number of classes and other activities at the 'Cliffe would not only reduce the countless trips to Harvard but also increase the interchange between the River and Quad dorms.
The most crucial development for Radcliffe, however, is additional construction. Although CHUL's March vote eliminated some over-crowding at Radcliffe, it does not provide Radcliffe dwellers the alternative of suite living. A breakdown of where next year's sophomore residents of the 'Cliffe lived this year demonstrates the positive effect of better housing. Fifty-nine freshmen from the Yard applied this Spring to live in Currier House, while a combined total of only 31 men from the Yard applied to North and South Houses. Dean Austin concludes from this survey that if North and South Houses were renovated, "The chances are that with time the [architectural] differentiations would go away."
Harvard's housing problems are as complicated as they are plentiful. Harvard could attack the many crises which it faces in a piecemeal fashion, taking each separately without bothering to study the effects of any solution on other areas. Harvard needs to re-examine the entire housing system and answer the many questions which have been shoved under the proverbial rug: how large should the College be, is the separate freshman year an outdated concept, can Radcliffe become an attractive alternative to Harvard without creating two House systems?
Harvard's housing system is sick but two aspirin, plenty of fluids and three days rest won't do the trick. The housing system needs a good surgeon, not a kindly family doctor.