To the Editors of The Crimson:
If there is one thing that can be said about the still-young Prefect Program, it is that it is varied. Some prefects, unfortunately, experience the frustration described by Brooke A. Masters ("Prefectly Useless," March 17); however, many prefects have succeeded extremely well in helping freshmen acclimate themselves to life at Harvard.
Masters misrepresents the history of the program. It was founded two years ago as a pilot program, by members of the Undergraduate Council who initiated a joint comittee with the Freshman Dean's Office. The first full year of the program was 1985-86, monitored by the steering committee which at first drew its student members from the council and now, by council decision, draws its student members from among the prefects themselves.
The program is thus very young, only one full year of operation under its belt--and it does have real faults. For instance, Masters' criticism that prefects met their freshmen too late this year (after classes had started) is well taken. But that decision was based on widespread complaint that prefect arrival on the first day of Freshman Week last year was too early: prefects twiddled their thumbs while freshmen took placement tests. Next year the program will be able to take both experience into account in striking a balance, perhaps at the weekend before classes start, so that prefects can help freshmen think about course selection.
The training program will continue to be evaluated and improved, based on evaluations from current prefects. However, in improving training it is important to remember that one of the programs greatest strengths is its flexibility in drawing on the talents of a diverse group of prefects and proctors. As we learn more about how the program works, the message seems to be that we can't expect a "dinner once in a while" to work; activities have to take place within the context of a genuine mutual interest in each other's experiences which can be developed with time and energy on the part of the prefect. The training program should stress more the importance of the initial effort.
There can be occasional frustrating moments for prefects, but these can be minimized by a large investment of time and creativity at the beginning of the school year. A good prefect is nevertheless able to make the houses more accessible, to reassure people about finals, to talk about concentrations, to let freshmen know about events tucked away in the Harvard information barrage, or to be there to listen. Juniors and seniors, who did not have prefects for their full freshman year, may remember how upperclass student's often seemed alien, the houses remote, Harvard bewildering. On a campus where the freshman year is in so many ways set apart, we shouldn't underestimate what contact and communication with upperclass students, who have found their own niches, can do to help freshmen explore and situate themselves here. So while we sympathize with Masters' frustration, we believe that the program can grow and improve by taking it seriously--and we do not think her frustration constitutes sufficient ground to condemn a Yard full of active and committed prefects or the program which places them there. Member, Prefect Steering Committe