Randomization Restored Lowell's Idea of House System
Re "Advice for Cornell" (Editorial, Oct. 29): While there can be a variety of views about Harvard's housing policy, there can be no doubt about President A. Lawrence Lowell's intention in creating the House system. The Crimson states, "Earlier this century, the residents, Masters and tutors worked together to give each house a distinct a character. While the basic House structure persists,...there has been a gradual temperament of the vigor President A. Lawrence Lowell, class of 1877, envisioned."
But Lowell could not have been clearer that Houses with distinct characters were exactly what he did not have in mind. With respect to the populations of the various Houses, he stated in 1928, "the division should not be based upon differences in the subjects studied or the career the members intended to enter;...on the contrary, men interested in various fields of thought should be thrown together with a view of promoting a broad and humane culture...So far as subjects of concentration, pecuniary means, and residence in different parts of the country are concerned, each House should be as nearly as possible a cross-section of the College."
Furthermore, a year later he rejected the notion that students should have any choice in this matter: "If the young men entering college were allowed to choose their houses, those coming from the same school, or from schools of the same type and from similar early surroundings, would naturally select the same House; and thus there would be a segregation among the Houses on the basis of origin--certainly a most unfortunate one." The House system drifted away from these ideals in the later years of the century, and the present assignment system has largely restored Lowell's vision, with many new dimensions added to each "cross-section" just as they have been added to the College as a whole. HARRY R. LEWIS '68 Nov. 1, 1998
The writer is Dean of Harvard College.