Poor Little Rich House
LAST YEAR, when the Quincy House Committee made a $1500 windfall profit on spring ball tickets, it celebrated by renting a giant moonwalk palace and letting residents bounce around for a fun filled day.
Most houses, though, couldn't even dream of such a luxury. Indeed, when Kirkland House Committee sold its washers and dryers last year--Kirkland was the only house not renting laundry equipment--the committee husbanded most of the proceeds into a certificate of deposit.
Perhaps the difference in attitudes lies in the fact that Quincy has a $12,000 budget and Kirkland has a $3000 budget. The discrepancies among the 13 house budgets are as great as the differences in house reputations. At the top are Currier, Eliot and Quincy. At the bottom, Dudley, Kirkland and Lowell.
HOUSE BUDGETS aren't just a matter of bragging rights for committee chairmen, though. The house bank account profoundly affects the quality of house life--from the number of parties a house throws, to whether a house has a wide screen TV or an active drama society with more than one production and a makeshift set, or an intramural hockey team with enough equipment, or elaborate spring formals.
"The level of activity is obviously related to the resources at the house," says Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III. Agrees Currier House Committee Chairman Deborah Ramirez '86, whose house has $12,000 a year to throw frequent parties, "The revenues we get reflect positively on the quality of house life here."
The three other universities which have residential house systems don't face these problems. Princeton, Yale and Rice University in Houston have standardized the funding systems for their residential colleges. Yale jumped on the bandwagon this year, abandoning the old system where each college raised its own money in favor of funding all colleges equally by allocating $20 for each student from the university's general fund.
But house committee chairmen and treasurers at Harvard are dependent on some very precarious, unpredictable financial sources. Collecting house dues is chancy. While Eliot House gets about an 80 percent return on dues collection, at other houses, like North, more than a third of students haven't paid up. Lowell and Kirkland just implemented a house dues system and don't know whether they can rely on students to pay up.
Other houses don't have dues at all, relying instead on washing machine revenues for their money. If students feel like being abnormally dirty one month, house revenues suffer.
But while everyone is uncertain where their money is coming from, they at least have a ballpark number. Some chairmen feel poor and worry whether their next party is going to cost so much it will break them for the rest of the year.
"In planning our next mixer, we can lose most of what we have in paying for a deejay, police and lighting and decoration," says Steven A. Colarossi '86, Dudley House committee chairman.
Agrees North House Committee Chairman James A. Messina '86, who works with a $7,500 budget, "We can't take big risks. We have to be sure people are going to come to anything we organize, and it can't be that big. If we had a party on the Quad and it rained, we could lose everything we have."
Indeed, while throwing house parties is one of the more obvious things a house committee can do, encouraging an active film or music society, buying equipment like pool tables or VCRs, or throwing more exotic theme parties is beyond the reach of many house committees.
"Sometimes I think it does inhibit us from taking a risk. If we loose $500 on a dance it's a big deal," says Leverett House Committee Chairman Carolyn M. Martin '86.
But at Currier House, with $12,000 to play with, "we have more leeway for student's creativity," says Ramirez.
IN ADDITION TO ability to encouraging house creativity, large budgets enable houses to throw extravagant parties on a scale that most Harvard students couldn't imagine--like Quincy's moon-walk palace, Eliot's opulent Spring Fete, and Currier's seemingly endless string of massive parties. Those bigger budgets make possible those little extra things--like live bands, rock videos, raffles for plane tickets to the Bahamas--and it keeps committees from worrying about running out of alcohol.
"Eliot spent $1,000 just on champagne for the fete. That was one half what our spring event cost," says NoHo's Messina. Eliot is blessed by the fact that house Master Alan E. Heimert '49 pays for the alcohol at their parties, freeing up house committee funds to go to other events.
"When Quincy had their spring weekend last year, we were just shocked at the money they had for that," says Julie A. Froehele '86, Mather House committee chairman.
But some chairmen are not anxious to be extravagant. "Currier has been able to have parties all the time. But I don't like extravagance personally," says Glen T. Meakem '86, house committee chairman of Lowell, whose balls are run by the house Music Society. "We have benefits that they don't have. Currier needs a lot of money to make up for their location. They have to work hard to create a better environment. We don't have to work half as hard to make things pleasant. We have a beautiful picturesque building, and we're in the center of things."
AT THE SAME TIME, though, another major factor in the quality of house life is the vigor of the committee in pursuing less expensive activities.
"You may be able to put on bigger and more lavish dances, but you're just as likely to have more fun anyway whether you're wearing a tux or jeans," says Leverett's Martin, whose house this fall organized an apple picking expedition. "It will cost us nothing but already in two days 30 people have signed up," Martin says.
At Eliot House, a talent show last year cost nothing "but it really helped get the house together," says Eliot House Committee Chairman Michele T. Ippolito '86. "I think it's more how much time the house committee chairman running it can spend," says Ippolito.
Agrees Froehele of Mather, "Having less money makes it that much, more difficult to go out and do something. But as long as you have the people who are willing to get involved, it's not that big a problem. You can find things that don't cost a lot of money but still have the same effect. If you want to have something extravagant you can just charge more for it."
But there's a vicious cycle at work, too. Low budgets discourage people from getting involved in the house committee, says Cabot House Committee Chairman Margaret L. Ackerley '87.
No one feels this cycle more than the Dudley House Committee. "If Dudley House students were more active we think it would be easy to go to the University and ask for more money. But then students come to you and say gee we'ld like to be more active but get more money first," says Dudley's Colarossi.
With the smallest budget in the system, probably no house needs money more than Dudley, whose house committee is in charge of activities for transfer students--who are not given the opportunity to live on-campus until senior year.
"In the past we've been able to say we don't need that many social activities because people who could have lived in the houses do or moved out voluntarily. Now we really have a captive audience, and we feel obliged to provide for them," says Colarossi.
ULTIMATELY, the place where funding discrepancies hit students most is in the pocket-book. Some houses charge dues and still ask for students to pay for select parties, such as winter and spring formals. Others charge no dues and no admission prices for the formal balls. Five houses charge residents anywhere from $4 to $20 to raise house funds, and five other houses recently considered but rejected charging house dues.
North House residents pay the most. They contribute $15 to their hall for milk and cookies every Sunday night and $5 for house committee. After that, NoHo residents still have to pay for the winter ball and for the main spring activity.
At Lowell and Cabot, students pay $10 in dues and pay for their special functions, though at Lowell the situation is complicated by the fact that the Music Society runs the winter and spring balls. At Eliot, students pay $15 in dues and then go to all house events including the Spring Fete free.
But at eight houses, including Dunster, Adams and Quincy, there are no dues. Explains Quincy House Committee Treasurer Phil N. Prince '86, "We want it to be a user tax. We like the people who use it to pay for it." Agrees Adams House Treasurer M. Margaret Hastings '86, "We feel it would not be fair to ask people to pay for something they won't use."
Dudley, however, is going through the painful process of considering charging dues. Before this year, the Dudley House Committee relied on about $400 from the University to supplement its budget--a stipend that failed to come through this year. "We're strapped," says Colarossi.
While dues can be an important source of revenue, the constant star is washing machines. In every house, revenue from washing machines, dryers, soda machines and video games are either the biggest or second biggest money makers.
At Quincy last year the game machines provided $400 a month, and per capita, Quincy residents do more laundry, says Prince.
"We party harder, but we do more laundry," Prince says. And when Quincy house residents party more they pump more money into their house budget. Last year $4500 of the Quincy budget came from formal ticket sales. Indeed many houses plan parties on a shoestring budget and hope ticket sales will cover the costs.
Quincy and Currier draw many of their benefits from their large common spaces in their modern buildings. Both the houses have large active grill areas that are typically seething with students spending money at the grill on video machines or soda.
Another constant star is mug and t-shirt sales, while other houses have turned dutch auctions into major money making sources. And Leverett had an unexpected money-making dance at the beginning of the year. Other houses make money from carnation sales on Valentine's Day. And Winthrop House has a unique source of revenue--roylaties of $2000 to $4000 a year on a directory of 'Throp alumni published by a private company.
One outlawed source of revenue is charging for alcohol. Since the College began seriously enforcing a ban on admission charges for parties that serve alcohol two years ago, treasurers have been scraping for innovative ways to raise money.
MOST HOUSE COMMITTEE chairmen and College officials recognize that there are vast inequities at Harvard and that the discrepancies affect house life. But few call for standardization of house budgets. And College administrators do not want to step in. Last year, at a meeting between house committee chairmen and Epps, several chairmen suggested term billing house dues, but the suggestion was rejected as impractical by other chairmen.
"To expect each house to have the same social functions is ridiculous, but I think some of the discrepancies are unfair," says Dudley's Colarossi.
Dunster House Committee Chairman Jonathan E. Klaaren '86 agrees, "I think this is a matter that definitely should be looked into in more detail. The thing I do feel urgency on is the fact that some house committees get more money."
But some chairmen think there is room for improvement without the College stepping in. "I'm not sure if it's an issue yet, because I'm not sure if every house committee has made the greatest efforts in fundraising efforts," says Currier's Ramirez.
Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett '57 agrees. "I would move very slowly in trying to move in. Unless there is pretty strong evidence that that is needed to be done. It is difficult to prohibit legitimate fundraising activities," Jewett says.
Epps says one of the main reasons the College is opposed to stepping in and standardizing house budgets because of Harvard's emphasis on student initiative. "Students learn from the experience. House committees should have their own character and keep their own variety," Epps says. "When you take responsibility for something yourself it's more likely that the house chairmen are responsible to what their constituents want." * Budgets are approximations which depend on collection rates for recently implemented house dues. Figures for house budgets are approximations made by the house committee chairmen based upon last year's budgets. The actual budgets can change appreciably during the year.
* Budgets are approximations which depend on collection rates for recently implemented house dues.
Figures for house budgets are approximations made by the house committee chairmen based upon last year's budgets. The actual budgets can change appreciably during the year.