Where Have All the Pillows Gone?

Poor communication plagued Harvard’s removal of red phones and pillows

As returning students dragged their luggage into their new rooms and started unpacking last week, most received quite a shock. No, Harvard hadn’t renovated their rooms, installed cable television, eradicated chronic cockroach infestations, or emplaced air conditioning/central heating units. (The Allston campus will probably be completed before any of these things happen.) Rather, it was the absence of Harvard’s (in)famous red phones and institutional, mostly lumpy, and sometimes-yellowing pillows.

In all seriousness, removing the seldom-used red phones and pillows from most student rooms was probably a wise decision, financially and hygienically, on the College’s part. Due to the ubiquity of cell phones nowadays, the vast majority of red phones did little more than gather dust in the darkest corners of student rooms, and Harvard’s re-used pillows often suffered the same fate. We strenuously object, however, to the mode in which the Offices of Residential Life and Physical Resources promulgated their decision.

According to a news article in Monday’s Crimson, the decision to trash the pillows and phones was made last spring. Nevertheless, students were lucky to find out about the change a few days before they were to move in. In fact, many found out as they were unpacking.

This is in marked contrast to the communications blitz the College put on several years ago when the red phones were first introduced; House administrators received a long and detailed e-mail describing their usage and purpose, the information in which was largely passed on to students in a timely fashion. At the beginning of this semester, even some superintendents seem confused as to the new policy.

The implementation of this policy was likewise uneven. For example, while Cabot House administrator Susan Livingston e-mailed Cabot House residents on September 6th to inform them that they would no longer be receiving pillows from the College, in neighboring Pforzheimer House, some rooms received pillows while others did not. While there is good reason for some of the unevenness—a few house masters, such as those of Adams House, requested the pillows remain (and students in other houses can still receive pillows upon request), and the red phones remain in the Quad houses because of their spotty cell phone reception—there is no good reason for the absolute dearth of communication to students.

While the lack of pillows or phones may be little more than a petty annoyance for some and a non-issue for others, there are some students at the College for whom the new policy is a major inconvenience. Despite the administration’s promise to make financial aid available for students to buy cell phones to replace the red phones and the availability of pillows on request, the fact remains that the burden on such students could have been significantly reduced by a timelier announcement of the policy.