New Battlefield for an Old Issue

Hilles could be student center, but distance might hinder use

For years undergraduates have clamored for the College to create a student center—and for the past eight years it has been a futile battle.

Former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 refused to give serious consideration to the issue during his eight-year tenure because he felt the Houses should act as the primary social space for undergraduates.

But new Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 is more receptive to the idea of student space outside the House system, and he announced in September that Hilles’ stacks would be condensed to make room on the upper floors—possibly for a student center.

Despite the long-standing desire for a student union, however, Gross’ suggestion that Hilles serve as a gathering place for undergraduates has sparked dissent from the Undergraduate Council president and skepticism from students.

At the center of their doubts about Hilles’ conversion to a space for all undergraduates is its location in the Quad—a ten-minute walk from the Yard and a 15-minute walk from the nearest river House.

Some Ivy Leauge schools have spent tens of millions of dollars on expansive student unions with space for studying, socializing and eating—with mixed success.

As the committee of students, professors and administrators charged with helping Gross decide the fate of Hilles bat around ideas, they will have to weigh the appeal of a central meeting place for students against Hilles’ peripheral location.

The Off-Center Center

Gross says that minimizing the part of Hilles devoted to books could make room in the building to fulfill other student needs, such as study, office and exercise space—or for a full-service student center.

“Why not a social center?” Gross says. “It’s not inconceivable that Hilles could be that.”

The Committee on Student Space in the Radcliffe Quadrangle will help decide what the space in Hilles will ultimately become.

It is already clear that some students are skeptical about the prospect of Hilles being converted into some type of student center.

In the Undergraduate Council’s e-mail soliciting students to serve on the committee, the first sentence asked in capital letters, “STUDENT CENTER IN THE QUAD?”

Undergraduate Council President Rohit Chopra ’04 has expressed strong reservations about basing a campus center in Hilles.

“I think it’s not only something that won’t happen, but it’s also something that students wouldn’t want to see happen,” Chopra says. “The fact that it’s far from everything is an important constraint.”

Gross says he understands that the location of Hilles might prevent it from being a magnet for student life.