Go for Quality, Not Quantity
NORTH HOUSE RENOVATION
THE HOUSING LOTTERY held every spring for freshmen is the closest Harvard comes to polling undergraduates on the popularity of the Houses. Each year the results are roughly the same--an overwhelming majority of the students would prefer to live anywhere along the river than any where at the Radcliffe Quad. And of the Quad Houses, many consider North House the least desirable. College officials consider this a problem and they hope to redirect opinion by revamping Borth House architecturally and by sending a higher total number of people to the Quad. The first expenditure is worthwhile, the second isn't.
Several structural problems contribute to NoHo's unpopularity as a place to live. Many of the suites are smaller than a bedroom elsewhere; few rooms allow for roommates to live together. House unity is damaged by the presence of two quite separate dining halls. There is no junior common room, and no House library. If renovations are targeted to express these problems, they can do only good for North House.
But College officials are not taking only this approach. North House, they say, is significantly smaller than every other House. With 267 residents, it is about 80 below the average--203 behind the leader, Qunicy, 38 behind the next smallest, Dunster.
It is true that low population does as much if not more than building structures to damage the morale of residents. But Quadding more students is not the answer, rather, juggling the allocation of students in three Quad Houses could take care of North Houses's size problem. Fewer students could be placed in South and Currier--a likely welcome relief from the notorious "ec double" system--and the surplus assigned to an expanded North. Then, the three Houses each would have more residents than Dunster, and about the same as Kirkland and Winthrop--Houses not known for lack of spirit.
Shipping 80 students each year to the Quad, as one of the proposals would do, is not a proper solution. The College has done an admirable job of trying to make the Quard a more pleasant place to live for those who, against their wishes, get assigned there--in other words, to make distance the Quad's only inconvenience. There's an athletic facility comparable to the IAB, a library better than Lamont, and a handful of departments headquartered there. But unless they move the majority of the classroom, computer, lab, extracurricular and research facilities, Harvard Square, and Harvard Yard up there, most undergraduates will prefer the river.
Officials claim that additional space is needed to reduce crowding in the House system and that the North House addition is the only feasible way to alleviate River House crowding. President Bok said at Borth House last week that the main question of whether the changes proceed is sufficient funds, not sufficient student support. There has been no apparent attempt to garner undergraduate opinion--to see whether cramped rooms at the river are a problem bad enough to send more people to the Quad, and only College officials can show otherwise. But the housing lottery convincingly demonstrates that most students would rather live tight than switch.