Masters To Review Party Hours

2 a.m. extension considered

Harvard students’ quest to party harder—or at least later—may be one step closer to fulfillment.

The Committee on House Life (CHL) decided in a meeting yesterday to send to the College’s Council of Masters proposals to extend dorm room party hours to 2 a.m. and reconsider the fireplace ban.

Sending the proposals to the masters’ council for further review is the next step in moving both proposals towards reconsideration by Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71, who ultimately has the last word on both policies.

The proposal to extend party hours listed several options for implementation that could minimize disturbance to Cambridge neighbors, who often complain about late-night noise.

Undergraduate Council Student Affairs Committee Chair Matthew W. Mahan ’05, who presented the proposal, said that extending the party hours could actually decrease the amount of noise on weekend nights.

Many of the noise complaints, he said, are spurred by loud students wandering through neighborhoods after parties end at 1 a.m.

Since students aren’t usually ready to go home at 1 a.m. on weekends, after being kicked out of parties they often roam the streets or walk to final clubs and bars to finish out the night, according to Mahan.

The proposal says that if parties lasted until 2 a.m., “this would constitute an increased incentive for students to stay in the Houses for the entirety of their social evening.”

The proposal cites a 2001 council survey which showed that 86 percent of students usually go to bed after 2 a.m. on weekends, and that 91 percent of students supported extending party hours to 2 a.m. It also noted that most of Harvard’s peer institutions, including Brown, Columbia and Yale, allow parties until 2 a.m.

Mahan added that extending party hours is one of students’ top priorities.

Associate Dean of the College Judith H. Kidd said that the main problem with noise comes from students in transit at night, particularly from the Quad to the River area.

CHL members suggested that many of the noise complaints could be alleviated by additional shuttles from the Quad.

Kidd said after the meeting that the administration has earmarked funds to expand shuttle service, though they have not yet decided whether shuttles would go later, or run more often during existing times, or both.

“The dean and I are very aware of the fact that there are not enough shuttles for party closing time to get students back to the Quad,” she said.

She said during the meeting that shuttle service must be increased in tandem with more extensive police coverage to facilitate boarding of the buses.

The 2001 council survey also showed that 12 percent of students have had trouble sleeping or working due to party noise on weekend nights, and CHL members said that this issue must also be taken into account in reviewing the proposal.

“We need to learn how to party safely without disrupting anyone else, and this includes neighbors’ ability to study or sleep,” Adams House Master Sean Palfrey said. “I know that [nearby students] are hesitant to accost their neighbors, and say, ‘you guys are making too much noise, please tone it down.’”

While the final decision must be made by Gross, Eliot House Master Lino Pertile said that he thinks the Council of Masters will agree to support the move to 2 a.m.

“It seems to be a matter of much more importance to students then it is of the masters,” Pertile said, “But I do appreciate the desire of a considerable body of students who are very keen to be in a private party late at night.”

Palfrey agreed that the revised party hours could be a reality, but stressed the individual responsibility of student hosts for alcohol consumption, noise and damage from their parties.

“We have a good chance of having this succeed if everyone assumes responsibility themselves, and thinks about others around them,” Palfrey said.

Sparking the Fire Debate

CHL student members also lobbied the committee yesterday to reconsider the ban on fireplace use in undergraduate dorm rooms.

Theodore E. Chestnut ’06, who brought the council’s Nov. 24 resolution calling for a review, said that students were as upset with the unilateral implementation of the ban as with the rule itself.

“It’s not clear why now, after overseeing 100 years of the safe use of fireplaces, the administration has suddenly decided that the risks are too high to continue to allow their use,” Chestnut wrote in an e-mail.

Palfrey said that he thought the implementation of the ban was appropriate, but that he hopes that the school can work on eventually reinstating student fireplace use.

“The decision last year was made at an administrative level, and I think that is correct—they have to assume responsibility for the safety of students,” he said. “What I would prefer is if we could work back towards the place where students could use fires safely, because they’re an important part of student lives in houses that have fireplaces.”

Chestnut and Mahan, who is also running for council president, also emphasized the social value of controlled fires.

“This is a uniquely Harvard thing,” Chestnut said of the fireplaces in Harvard dorm rooms.

Several CHL members pointed out that the ban was instituted for safety reasons, but Chestnut said that a program of increased education, equipment and possibly fire registration forms, could help minimize any risk.

He noted that very few rooms have fire screens and none have individual fire extinguishers.

Palfrey said he hopes that the school will put resources into solving the problem.

“If Harvard were willing to put money and effort into a system they felt was safe, this would be wonderful,” Palfrey said.

Pertile said that several masters feel divided on the issue, giving credence to safety concerns, while at the same time regretting students’ loss of the prized winter comfort of fires.

“One the one hand, it is a sensible state of affairs that we have now [with the ban], but I do feel that our students have been deprived of a major winter amenity, and that is a major loss,” Pertile said.

He noted that while he hasn’t decided conclusively where he stands on the ban, the current dialogue amongst students, masters and administrators on the issue is crucial.

“I’m absolutely in favor of the present discussion, and the fact that we are now reconsidering the ban together, and considering it from all angles,” Pertile said.

A primary risk concern is the number of false fire alarms in Houses, which could lead students to ignore the alarms and decide against leaving their rooms.

Apathy toward fire alarms, developed by a series of false alarms, may have been a prime cause in the deaths of three Seton Hall University students in a dorm room blaze in January 2000.

Peritle said that the recommendation of the Council of Masters will likely depend on any new information that Gross provides them at the meeting.

The CHL also decided to implement for the next year new rules governing interhouse transfers, which decrease the cap on groups applying for transfers to two.

Staff writer Katharine A. Kaplan can be reached at kkaplan@fas.harvard.edu.