The Cambridge Advantage
All thesis writers should be allowed to remain on campus in January
Thesis writers accustomed to working from their personal nooks in Lamont Library may have to finish their theses in more foreign territory. The recent statements of Interim Dean of Advising Programs Inge-Lise Ameer raise the prospect that some senior thesis writers who wish to stay on campus during J-term may be denied for lacking a “clear need.” This restrictiveness is unwise and harmful—any student who wants should be allowed to remain on campus to work on a thesis.
Even thesis writers who can’t claim a specific need to access labs or archives could have compelling reasons to be allowed on campus. The Harvard campus is an incomparable working environment for many students. In creating the new January break and moving exams to before winter recess, the administration acknowledged this implicitly. Studying for exams during break was both stressful and difficult. There is a psychological benefit to working in a Lamont, your house library, the dining hall, or your Harvard room. They provide the rigorous academic atmosphere that homes and local libraries cannot recreate. For many, it is easier to accomplish more when you are surrounded and encouraged by hundreds of other hardworking peers in a world-class research institution. The “Harvard bubble” is one of Harvard’s central scholarly benefits at any time of the year, and students should not have to forgo it during their greatest time of academic need.
On a more concrete note, theses can frequently change course midway, requiring a student to access resources he might not have expected to need. Forcing students without “clear need” to leave restricts this possibility. We understand that the university is worried about unoccupied students getting into trouble on campus if they do not have a reason to be there. Nevertheless, Harvard students who are under pressure to produce a quality thesis will have plenty of work to occupy their time.
The right of varsity athletes to stay has gone unchallenged—perhaps for good reason—but the university should not forget its core academic priorities. Harvard prides itself on all types of achievement, academic and athletic, and it should not have to sacrifice one for the other.
Most importantly, allowing students the resources they need to write their senior theses is crucial for the advancement of the university’s academic mission. The writing process is not always straightforward and schedulable, and seniors should not be forced to cap their intellectual possibilities because of a housing quota. For most students, January will provide three weeks of welcome relaxation with family and friends. Seniors who ask to forgo this opportunity to do some of the most rigorous research and thinking of their Harvard career should be encouraged and assisted, not turned away.