Rating Houses: Useful, But Limited
EYEBROWS WERE RAISED around campus recently over an unofficial study that reveals wide disparities in academic performance among residents of the College's 13 Houses. While the study does provide food for thought, students and administrators should think twice before drawing broad conclusions from the report, authored by Stephen A. Epstein, senior tutor of Mather House, and Associate Registrar Jay A. Halfond.
The study fails to take into account sufficiently all of the factors that might explain discrepancies in GPA between some of the Houses. A wide variety of concerns influence House choice, including extracurricular activities, facilities, location and common interests, as well as intangibles like atmosphere and reputation. While in the Class of 1986 "the academic elite" may have been "determined to separate itself," as the study indicates, this does not necessarily imply that athletes congregate in Kirkland to find security in mass low GPA's.
Equally important is the fact that where students live does not necessarily reflect a choice, Amid conflicting interests, a chosen House often reflects little more than the least common denominator between students in a rooming group.
In addition, recent reactions suggest that the conclusions of the report may be unfounded. College officials have criticized the methodology involved, saying that the authors did a "very sloppy academic job" in evaluating the results. Quite possibly much of the difference in academic performance between Houses could be accounted for by the standard deviation of any random population. The evidence upon which the authors base their conclusions may be faulty.
The study does not significantly change perceptions of the Houses' characters, but only reinforces what may be unjustified stereotypes. The results will spark further discussion and investigation as to the lack of diversity within some Houses, but the only way to ensure that such variety actually materializes is to institute a random lottery. Whether or not this is the most expeditious path to homogeneity is not the issue at this time. What is important is that the College administration not view this most recent report in a vacuum, but also consider the factors that limit its relevance.