EARLIER this month, the University announced that it had contracted an internationally renowned architectural firm to study the feasibility of putting a student center in Memorial Hall. Let's hope it decides not to go beyond this planning stage.
The proposed student center would, at the minimum, house the offices of student groups and a dining hall for freshman to replace the Union. Others have suggested that the University go further and provide a cafeteria, some pinball machines, a pub with a band, a pizza parlor and, well, you get the idea.
In theory at least, a student center sounds like a "neat idea," an opportunity to bring the diverse but scattered elements of the student body together in a campus-wide social outlet. In theory.
The idea, recently suggested in a Crimson staff editorial, that a student center will somehow provide a panacea for the "moribund" social life on campus seems wishful thinking.
It is highly unlikely that the mere existence of a student center would, in itself, promote greater interaction among various groups of students or deter students from going to final clubs. Given its likely location in Memorial Hall--far from the houses--and the fact that it would hold a new freshman dining hall, it's doubtful that the new center would attract any upperclass students.
Student centers recently built at Swarthmore and Princeton have cost $2-6 million. Yet, these are rural campuses without the wide range of services provided in Harvard Square.
EVEN though the initial funds for the center would be raised through alumni donations, in the end expenses for the upkeep and maintenance would get passed onto students in the form of higher tuitions.
Clearly, student organizations that depend on the University for financial support deserve better than being relegated to musty, cramped basements or the dorm rooms of their members. It is true that a new center would provide many groups with larger and more attractive offices. However, several of these financially strapped student organizations surely would be charged extra for their use of the newly renovated office space.
Aren't there better ways for the University to spend its--or more likely its students'--money than on a minimall? If such money is going to be raised, wouldn't it be better spent on more financial aid or the creation of a University-sponsored study-abroad program, than on xerox machines or drug stores? How about making sure that all houses, and not just a select few, are wheelchair-accessible?
Then again, why not use money to improve house facilities? After all, what bothers many students now is not the lack of a campus student center, but rather the lack of such a center in their own houses. Wouldn't most students profit more from a closer relationship with the people of their own houses--which are supposed to be microcosms of the College anyway--rather than unrealistically trying to "meet" everyone in the school.
Houses don't really provide a place to "hang out," precisely because people don't take the idea of the-house-as-a-community seriously enough. Senior and junior common rooms are usually booked by groups a week in advance--which excludes students who want to socialize there. In fact, some houses don't even have T.V. rooms.
Only Cabot and Currier have a central room where more than a very few students can interact at any time, day or night. If the University is as committed to the house system as its says, more houses should offer such facilities.
A lot of the proposals for the student center are facilities which the houses either are or should be offering--namely, grills, rehearsal space, common rooms and an atmosphere in which students can interact with faculty without feeling self-conscious. Setting up a student center would merely detract from the camaraderie and community spirit which the houses should foster. Instead of designing an inadequate, poorly-planned "student center," the University should try to revive the neglected house system.