Now that a week has passed since the allocation of rooms in the Houses to the class of 1938, the state of affairs met with by the anxious applicants becomes more lucid. While the inevitable group of helots roll up their rugs preparatory to moving into Little Hall and those who never say die line up before the wailing wall of Professor Merriman's residence with more hope than expectancy, the hardships imposed by the totalitarian methods of the Central Committee are met with neither understanding nor patience.
The cross section in its rigid form has been no more successful than any other attempt to regiment sociability. In the abstract the ideal of making it possible for men of all stations and classes to mingle, even if only with the measured cordiality of a Friday evening at the Somerset, has a certain nobility of tone which permits no contradiction. As it has worked out, whether the fault of University Hall or the student body, more hostility and disappointment than conviviality have resulted.
With one exception House Masters have worked hand in glove with the University's policy. Their efforts to admit the most congenial group possible, to make each House a living unit, something more than a Leverett House or Chateau Lake Louise, are thwarted from the beginning by the insistence upon the so-called "cross-section plan" in all its ramifications.
By its very diversity the cross-section is neither animal, vegetable, nor mineral. First, there is the desire to have in each House a certain percentage of men from each social level. There must be, in varying amounts, what some on has well called, "blue book men, telephone book men, and those who just use the phones in the entry." In addition the "balance" must be struck between intellectual and academic aims, outside interests, and geographical considerations. Since the first consideration, that of social diversification, seems the only one worth saving, the other elements, which only complicate an already intricate situation, should be allowed to die a well-deserved death.
If the social cross-section is to be concentrated upon, the Houses should be made as attractive as possible to the maximum number of groups. It has been the most constant complaint, coming strangely enough from both sides, that the men from Eton and Harrow by their yearly desertion deal the most telling blow to the whole House plan. In the majority of cases this exodus could be prevented by a more elastic system of admissions. Arrangements should be made, if necessary by shifting about the present occupants, so that each year a great number of neighboring vacancies would occur. Houses should be thrown open to large groups of friends desiring to live in quarters contiguous to one another. This would by no means be the monoply of Eton and Harrow, but would be equally welcomed by all groups of House applicants, and the motive for withdrawal would in most cases cease to exist.
A modified and flexible cross-section would do much to refute the present charges that the Houses lack personality, espirit de corps, and all the other attributes President Lowell once hoped for. The disappointment of those admitted to no House at all must be borne at present due to financial considerations, but there is little enough excuse for the lack of fluidity which prevents large groups from at least getting in one House together, even if it is not their first choice.