Harvard students this week will register their views in an ongoing debate which could change the way freshmen are assigned to the 12 residential House.
In a nonbinding referendum sponsored by the Undergraduate Council this Wednesday. Thursday, and Friday, students will indicate whether they feel students' choice should determine House assignments.
At the center of the controversy is a question Collage administration have been scrutinizing virtually since the inception of the Houses in the 1930s: to what degree should individual students' House preferences be sacrificed to achieve greater diversity in the Houses?
While some officials assume that random House assignments should be used to ensure that each House a "microcosm" of the College community, other believe that students should be able to exercise some degree of choice--even at the expense of diversity.
Over the last three years, the debate up steam Prompting the currtnt discussion are the conclusions of two recent studies by Collage officials, which find that minorities, athletes, and students with high academic athletes and standing are distributed unevenly among the Houses.
The first comprehensive study, showing wide differences in the demographic composition of the Houses, was completed in January 1982 by Dean K.Whitla director of the Office of Instructional Research Among Whitla's findings were that, at the time the study was conducted, Blacks made up 21 and 12 percent of Currier and Leverett Houses, respectively, compared to less than three percent of Kirkland and Leverett Houses, respectively, compared to less than three percent of Kirkland and Eliot.
Whitla's study also revealed that while athletes comprised just under hall of Kirkland House, they made up less than 5 percent of Adams House.
College administrators reacted to Whitla's study with concern and suggestions for reform of the system In a letter accompanying the report, Dean of the College, John B. Fox Jr '59 wrote that "with respect to race and athletic participation, some Houses that all short of the ideal" House that would be a microcosm of the College."
Fox listed random House assignments, quotas, and more vigorous recruitment of a variety of students by Masters as possible alternatives. The Dean added, however, that none of these changes would be adopted in the "foreseeable future" because of widespread opposition from students and administrators.
Last year, a second study found a marked difference in academic performance among the 13 Houses. Lowell residents had the highest mean grade point average, with 63 percent in the top two rank groups, earning a B-plus average or better. Thirty-six percent of Kirkland residents earned the same marks.
Now, more than three years after the controversy over House assignments began brewing in University Hall, students will have a chance to register their support for or opposition to the selection system and give administrators an accurate reading of the system's popularity.
The Council plans to present the results of the poll to the student-faculty Committee on Housing (COH), recommending that the committee consider student opinion in future discussions, says Jessica I Levin'87, chairman of the council's Residential Committee.
Fox Says he and other COH members will be "very interested in the results of the study," although he admits it would be "difficult to make significant changes in this year's lottery" even if the study shows strong opposition to the present House selection system.
Student input is "crucial before [the council can reach a decision on any possible changes in the system, since we already know where University administrators, "Masters, and many Council members stand," I evin wrote this fall in a report analyzing the pros and cons of the present system and its alternatives.
"Hopefully, we'll have significant results one way or the other about the lottery," Levin says," adding, "In any event, we'll be revealing the kind of information that nobody has."