Open the Pudding

Roughly a year ago, I met with former Associate Dean of the College David P. Illingworth ’71 regarding the disturbing lack of practice space for Harvard’s various student groups. I recounted to Illingworth the problems that student groups have finding practice and meeting space—being kicked out of junior common rooms for attempting to stay longer than two hours, having room reservations revoked by House offices at their whim, being reduced sometimes to literally wandering the streets of Cambridge looking for somewhere to meet. Each House has a different policy toward student organizations; some allow only their own students to reserve common rooms, and some impose strict time limits or caveats on their “tenants.” Good, accessible rooms are scarce, and the House policies that govern them are inconsistent and generally not conducive to the flourishing of student life at the College.

I also offered to Illingworth a potential solution to these problems. The Hasty Pudding building stands tall at 12 Holyoke Street, and it lies mostly fallow. The University has owned the land under the building since 1986, but only recently did it get authority over the building itself, when it purchased it from the Institute of 1770 three years ago. Today, the Hasty Pudding Theater remains almost exactly as it was before Harvard gained control. It serves as a private practice space and clubhouse for three Harvard groups: the Harvard Krokodiloes, the Radcliffe Pitches and the Hasty Pudding Theatricals (HPT). These groups have access to the building at their discretion and the further benefit of a posted security guard (on Harvard payroll) to make sure that no one else even enters.

I asked Illingworth why the Pudding had not been opened for student use. He told me that there were long-term plans to renovate it, but that for now the building was “falling apart” and too dangerously “dilapidated” for student use. If this is true, however, then why does the administration continue to put any Harvard students in harm’s way? Why do they allow thousands of unsuspecting theatergoers to see the HPT production every spring in such a hazardous setting? And what about the raucous, drunken, dancing-on-the-tables parties that are often held within those “dilapidated” walls?

I am not opposed to the current uses of the Pudding—indeed, I have attended some of those parties myself—but how dare Illingworth tell me that simply standing in a room and singing or talking would endanger the building more than vomit on its floors and beer bottles strewn from wall to wall? And how dare the University, which constantly touts the diversity of its student groups, use a building that my tuition pays for as an exclusive space for three privileged groups at the expense of the rest of the student body?

At one point in our conversation, Illingworth let slip a cryptic remark that I did not fully understand until later. “A lot of people pay attention to what happens down at the Pudding,” he said. I realized later that he had unwittingly furnished me with what may be the real reason that the Pudding remains a veritable clubhouse despite Harvard ownership: alum pressure. I do not know for sure if this is the case, but there seems to be no other logical explanation for the current situation.

Of course, alums do have much to be proud of when it comes to the Hasty Pudding. The Pitches and Kroks have long traditions of excellence, and HPT is in its 156th year of production. The building is a historical monument, representing one of the first true commitments to the arts in American collegiate history. But alums should note that the value of the Pudding lies not in its tradition of exclusivity, but in its tradition of excellence. Opening the building to various student organizations would not diminish its venerable history; rather, it would enrich it. The current groups would not be displaced, but would merely be joined by the rest of the vibrant Harvard community—who deserve to use this hallowed space as much as anyone else.

I never received a follow-up from Illingworth, despite his promise to do so, and he has since left the University. So here is my follow-up to the administration: People are paying attention to what is happening down at the Pudding, and while we may not be wealthy alums, we are students struggling to be heard about a problem that affects our college experience in a major way. Even if there are long-term plans to renovate the building, the University should open it now to any student groups that will sign a contract and treat it with as much respect and care as the three groups that currently use it. Let Harvard live up to its lofty tradition of commitment to the arts, and to student life, that has been the true spirit of the Hasty Pudding.

Jorian P. Schutz ’05 is a social studies concentrator in Pforzheimer House.