Order out of Chaos
Harvard's Master Plan for Freshman Year
In the old days, residents of the Yard sometimes got out of line. Riots over letter butter in the College's dining halls closed down Harvard in the 18th century. President Josish Quincy reprimanded freshmen of the 1800's who dressed sloppily. And debates raged earlier in this century over the College's parietal rules," which restricted visiting hours and other forms of contact between the scans.
Today Harvard has a Freshman Dean's Offices complete with squadrons of proctors associate deans, and senior advisers, to cushion freshmen's transition from the real world to the yard. These hierarchies reign over six fiefdoms of the yard, providing support and advice while trying to remain unobtrusive. Former president A Lawrence Lowell class of 1880, called this system "Influence without vexation of grandmotherly regulation."
In the minds of College officials, this network of graduate students and other College employees as advisers set the Harvard freshman experience apart from those of other colleges, which often have upperclassmen living in freshman dorms acting as resident advisers.
The College does not ask older undergraduates to advise freshmen because "although the freshmen make the decisions, the College has to say this decision is going to work," according to Dean of Freshmen Henry C. Moses.
Meses's office also prefers older advisers, because the job requires a fair amount of maturity and professionalism. "One reason we choose graduate students is because a proctors all a students scores and confidential records," says W.C. Burris Young '55, associate dean of freshmen.
But if the system of proctors and senior adverse seems as old as Harvard itself, freshmen have not always been firmly entrenched in the Yard.
While the delegation of freshman to one living area seems the obvious corollary to the three year House sytem for upperclassmen, some freshmen were mixed in with upperclassmen in the Redcliffe Quad houses as recently as 1976.
The merger between Harvard's three-year residential system and Radcliffe's four-year arrangement resulted in some freshmen from the Yard feeding into the three year river Houses, and others going to the Quad for all four of their Harvard years. Meanwhile, part off the sophomore class called Canaday home, to make room for freshmen in the Quad.
"It was pretty Chaotic," recalls John B. Fox Jr. '59, dean of the College, siding, "we didn't know which system was right."
In 1976, the College decided to house all freshmen in the Yard after debating several other options, such as making all the Houses four-year residences by converting the Yard dorms into houses--at considerable expense--to take up the slack.
A side from the expense, several other features of the College--such as the policy of concentrating in a subject for the three final years--suggested that separating freshmen socially as well as academically would better affect the rest of their College careers.
"If we define the freshman your he a transition year from school to university, as we do with the the three-year concentration system, why not go into the business of making the transition through, with a system of freshmen advisers rather than hoping that masters and upperclassmen can do a decent job? asks Moses.
Critics of the arrangement point out that freshmen are deprived of contact with upperclassmen and faculty members who are masters, and therefore miss a major part of the University.
Many other schools operate on this principle. "It's our philosophy that it is good as a freshman to have upperclass friends," says Paula Carleton, director of undergraduate housing at Princeton, which incorporated this belief into its new residential college system. That system, which began to be passed in several years ago, requires all freshmen and sophomores to live in a residential college with about 30 juniors and seniors acting as residential advisers.
Brown University freshmen may live in dorms with upperclassmen, or in special freshmen dorms proctored by upperclassmen. "Students can relate better to those who are closer in age to them," says housing official Meredith Eddy of Brown's residential adviser system. She adds that Brown does not have the option of allowing graduate students to serve as residential advisers because those rooms set aside for advisers are needed to house undergraduates.
Yale's system of placing freshmen in their own giving area but assigning them to an upperclass residential college seems an attempt to compromise between the two ideals. At Harvard, debate about the freshmen housing lottery perennially raises the option of abandoning the lottery and assigning freshmen to a House in their first year. While this seems to give the best of both worlds--contact with upperclassmen as well as a specialized advising system--the College shuns it because it eliminates choice.
Says Fox of the present system, "It was adopted because it is practical, we can afford it, and it works."
Moses says he has tried to give the arrangement as many advantages as possible by careful selection of the 150 proctors and nonresident advisers. Moses says he looks for "maturity and commitment" in proctors--not necessarily familiarity with Harvard.
"We look for quick learners," Moses says, adding. "The problem with some Harvard graduates who are proctors is that they think they know everything--they may not brother to study how things have changed since they were freshmen."
Now-resident advisers usually hold some other officer in the University, ranging from admissions officer to superintendent of Yard dorms.
Proctors and non-resident advisers receiver extensive briefings form the freshman dean's office. When proctors greet freshmen on the first day of school, for example, they have already pored over a collection of essays put out by the office which addresses such topics as "What should I say in conversations with students" and "advisers' responses to misconduct."
Running freshmen year is almost like a business for Moses. "We have 1600 customers and 150 staff--there have to be times when things don't go perfectly. I don't think every students gets exactly what he wants."