Several first-years in Canaday last year were looking for a way to dry their damp clothes. Noticing that their halogen lamps gave off a great deal of heat, they came to an innovative solution.
The clothes soon burst into flames. Fortunately, a student grabbed an extinguisher and put out the fire.
But the Class of 2001 will be spared a similar fate. The popular halogen floor lamps have been banned from first-year dorms.
"I'm very happy to see that they don't allow halogens. I have questions about the safety of halogens. I hate halogens," said Debbie, a class of 2001 mother who asked that her last name be withheld for her daughter's sake.
"The [Freshman Dean's Office's] policy was made solely and absolutely on the basis of safety concerns," said Elizabeth S. Nathans, the dean of first-years.
Harvard's decision follows in the wake of similar bans at schools around the country, including Yale and Brown universities, causing fierce protests from students.
The lamps have caused nearly 200 fires and 11 deaths in the United States since 1992, according to the Consumer Products Safety Commission.
Members of the Class of 2001 expressed ambivalence over the decision.
"If it's going to cause a hazard I'm not going to make a fuss about it," Kevin A. Doughton '01 said.
"There are too many things to get stressed out about here to worry about lighting," he added.
Halogen lamps, which use 300 to 500 watt bulbs as opposed to the 60 to 100 watt bulbs used in incandescent lamps, proliferate in the houses, where a single lamp often provides significantly more light than the ceiling fixtures do.
Some students and parents expressed concern that the lighting provided in the dorms is inadequate.
"The darkness is not good for their eyes and their mood. [The rooms] need more ceiling lamps," said Angelo Gelpi, a Class of 2001 parent.
At a meeting held for first-years who live in the San Francisco Bay area, the students were warned of the dim dorm condition.
"We were told that if you're used to California sunshine, then put a lot of light in your room. It's more of a psychological thing," said Patty Hennings, also a Class of 2001 parent.
A survey conducted about two years ago by a Harvard student showed that more than 40 percent of the power used in Harvard residences went to halogen lamps.
As a result of this survey, the University began to look at alternatives for student lighting, according to Robert L. Mortimer, associate director for building services.
A sub-committee of the Undergraduate Committee on House Life, along with the Director of Physical Resources Michael Lichten, is in the midst of two separate processes that it hopes will make the halogens unnecessary, according to committee member Robert B. Wolinsky '98.
One of the steps involves an upgrade of dorm lighting, which began in Quincy House last spring, said Wolinsky, who toured New Quincy after the lighting upgrade. He saw one common room where students were studying under the ceiling light.
"These students had halogen lights, several of them. They were off," Wolinsky said.
In addition to the lighting upgrade, the College has contracted with a company to develop a prototype of a lamp using an incandescent bulb to replace the halogen lamps. The student who conducted the survey on lighting designed this prototype.
"These lights actually perform better in testing that halogens," Wolinsky said.
"We're going to try to distribute a few hundred to student rooms to see how they work out," Mortimer said. He expects the lamps to be distributed this fall.
No decision has been made on how to make these lights available to the campus at large.
"It's something we're trying to work out.... One possibility is to provide that as part of your furniture in your room," Mortimer said.
Although The Coop still sells the halogen torchieres, Harvard Student Agencies (HSA) has replaced them with a stock of lamps using mainly incandescent bulbs, none of which uses more than 150 watts.
"I didn't think it was a bad decision as long as their decision was about safety.... It saves money for the University, which they must like," said B. Cameron Sheldon '99, manager of the HSA Campus Store.
"[The University] let us know immediately. They were very helpful about it, willing to give us advice," Sheldon added.
A "Fire Safety Alert" has been posted in upperclass houses which warns against the dangers of halogen lamps. This alert says that lamps with 500-watt tubular halogen bulbs are now prohibited by the University.
Students who own lamps can guard against the danger of fire by requesting a complimentary protective covering from the manufacturer of the lamps sold at the Coop. The covers, which are mailed directly to customers, can be obtained by calling 1-800-985-2220.
A Surey...should that more than 40 percent of the power used in Harvard residences went to halogen lamps:CrimsonMelissa K. CrockerBEWARE: A sign at The Coop warns students that halogen lamps pose a fire hazard, though upperclass students may still use the lights in their houses.