"YOU CAN PAY me now," as the man in the commercial says, "or you can pay me later." Harvard is discovering that its celebrated Houses are saying just that to the moneymen at University Hall. The brick and ivy structures--quaint though they may be--are in ever-increasing need of basic maintenance, and the longer Harvard waits to slow the deterioration, the worse the problem grows. A study released last week--the second on the condition of the Houses in three years--stated that the College should double the money it spends each year on the buildings, and we heartily concur.
Preventive maintenance is about as unglamorous an expense as exists in the University budget. Understandably, the alumni and foundations would much rather endow professorships and build libraries; that's why you don't see a John C. Graduate '54 memorial rewiring, or a Wanda R. Alumna '40 honorary replastering. But few expenditures affect the lives of undergraduates more than those that determine the quality of the places in which we live. Harvard's House system may be its greatest treasure, and students fool themselves if they think many collegians elsewhere live in more congenial surroundings. But many of these lovely buildings are old and decaying, and some of the less lovely buildings--Mather House comes to mind--are new and decaying. Harvard should recognize this problem as it now seems to have done in its ever-multiplying reports, and get to work.
Before the Houses can be significantly repaired, the University has taken at least one intelligent step towards making the Houses more sensible users of energy. By installing heating controls in each room, as Harvard is doing, the University will not only lower its energy costs, but make students' rooms more pleasant places to live. Students will accept and even encourage common sense ideas like this one, and Harvard should look for more like it. The implementation of this sound new plan for the Houses would be a good first step.