Flexible Response

BRASS TACKS

MATHER HOUSE residents aren't happy these days. Their House is so crowded that in some cases more than 10 people share one bathroom. Most sophomores and some Juniors are sleeping in common rooms, and more than 80 percent of the low-rise suites are crowded.

Each year, it seems, a different House gets the crunch. Crowding is never anticipated; it's only compensated for the following year, when a particular House may take fewer rising sophomores in the lottery. Because the problem shifts around, there's never enough frustration in one place for students to mount a serious protest.

Thursday night's meeting of more than 70 Mather students with Dean of the College John B. Fox Jr. '59 and Assistant Dean for Housing Thomas A. Dingman '67 may have been an exception. When the student-faculty Committee on Housing (COH) meets next week, it should place overcrowding at the top of its agenda. But while it should make specific recommendations, both students and administrators must come to terms with the general problems of the system.

IT ISN'T EASY for the College to arrange housing for 6000 undergraduates. Each year students take time off, others return, many request inter-House transfers, and off-campus students want to enter the Houses. Administrators maintain that they can do little in the short run to alleviate the crunch, because there is only so much flexibility in they system. They've got a point. And that's precisely the problem.

There are a lot of factors involved in trying to see that every student has a place other than a storage closet in which to sleep. And most of them should be seriously reevaluated by the COH, housing officials, masters, and administrators.

The Collier system, designed in 1974, by which "ceilings" or maximum numbers of students are now assigned to each House, takes into account the variations in architecture which make the Houses intrinsically inequitable. It uses what's referred to affectionately as "the pain formula" to determine which Houses can afford to be crowded more easily than others.

The amount of pain it would cause for one more student to be added to a suite depends on such factors as height of ceilings, size of windows, and even placement of doors and closets, in addition to the amount of floor space in each room.

By these standards, it was determined that Mather is the least flexible of all the Houses, and consequently in two of the last seven years, officials have lowered the ceiling for Mather by 10 students. All this amounts to is reshuffling, after the fact. The same number of students reside in the 12 Houses, only the crowding is shifted around.

In fact, by the calculations of Mather's House Committee, which prepared a fact sheet for Thursday's meeting, the present House system is currently accommodating 14 fewer students than it is theoretically capable of--which means that some Houses are relatively uncrowned while others have very high levels of pain. If accurate, this figure raises serious doubts as to whether the College has enough space to house its students--is University Hall taking as its status quo a situation which students, perhaps quite rightly, consider unacceptable?

THE COLLEGE has a complex formula by which it estimates the numbers of resident students each term. Based on four-year statistics, it takes into account leaves of absence, returning students, transfers, and students choosing to live off-campus. But while officials maintain that the formula has met with increased success in accuracy in the last several years, there is an inherent problem with calculating such numbers.

The result is an average estimate of 8 percent attrition for each of the Houses. But attrition rates vary widely. Some Houses this year such low rates that the number of students exceeded the ceiling.

In addition, questions remain about the claim the present concept of an "empty bed." Technically there should be in students for a rooms, but this has different implications in different Houses. A common room in Adams House, for example, may be used as a bedroom or a living room system makes. For example, one issues raised at Thursday's meeting included the, but ved because there is not enough space in the bedrooms for more than one person. in Mather House beds were placed in common rooms this year which could not be mo So there is validity to the claim that some Mather students never enjoy use of common rooms. In three years of residence.

The situation was so tight this year that the Mather House masters experienced more than 10 percent attrition, while others, including Mather, had and some students apparently were ready to take matters into their own hands. When some Mather students wanted to transfer to North House, where some empty beds remained, the masters of both Houses were willing. But they were told by the College that it was against College policy, which tries to maintain the ideals of the residential House system, including the sense of identity for three years with one House, with all its facilities, tutorial staff, and fellow members.

WHILE IT IS an admirable goal to uphold all that the House system was designed for, nevertheless the issue of space has become more pressing than the issue of House spirit. For what kind of House spirit can exist if a majority of students are living in unconscionably crowded conditions?

Administrators agree that the present system is not adequate and must be reexamined. And the COH, for a start, will surely do just that, In time, it is hoped, the Collier formula will be replaced with a more realistic system which will better evaluate the amount and quality of space in the Houses.

But while it can take years to develop a new formula, some students are living in storage closets. Determining whether more dramatic charges, such as a radical reworking of the housing policy or construction of a new House, are in order could take far longer. Even if their methods remain imperfect, College officials and masters should seriously consider increasing the flexibility of the various elements in the housing system to remedy the immediate difficulties:

Attrition rates. Because these vary so widely, each House should have more responsibility for determining its own projected residence figures. Patterns may well differ among the 12 House populations.

Inter-House Transfers. Normally, these are only allowed after a formal application procedure each term. The Houses should consider allowing more transfers from crowded to uncrowded places.

Off campus transfers. There is no reason to allow off-campus students to enter crowded Houses. While transfers from other schools have a right to seek on-campus housing. "piping them in" to an over-crowded House is ridiculous.

There is an ironic contrast between the concern officials profess for the flexibility of a given room or House, and the relative inflexibility of their own policies on accommodating students--and it is this very rigidity which may be taking the heaviest toll on the House spirit they hold so dear.