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Now that war has actually broken out and the emergency is more than a word, the necessity of lowering the cost of a Harvard education must rapidly give birth to more than one invention. The Treasury is already planning new taxes to support the war, and they will hit even more heavily the pocket of the potential Harvard father not only next year, but this year.
There are two major figures on the University's term bills. The first is tuitions, used to pay expenses of studies and administration and to help make up professors' salaries. The other is living expenses, the costs of board and room.
Tuitions can hardly be reduced except in a few isolated instances such as the extra course fee for three-year students. President Eliot used to sustain a theory that a professor should be satisfied with a low salary because of the honor of teaching at Harvard. This system will work no longer. Harvard must pay to keep the best teachers available in order to maintain its standards above those of the state universities.
Living expenses, on the other hand, can be materially reduced. The average costs of the luxury rooms in the Houses and the newer Freshman dormitories is ridiculously high. Designed in the lush 'twenties and early thirties when pinching pennies was not yet necessary, the Harvard suites are the only ones in American colleges besides Yale designed to give every man a sparate bedroom along with a study to share with roommates.
If the House masters would double up on the larger single and double rooms, either by moving beds into the studies or by using double-decker beds in the bedrooms and putting an extra desk in each suite, the cost of the rooms from $380 on up to the fantastic top of $500 could be cut almost in half and divided betwen the occupants. No room in the House system, despite a view of the Charles or a second floor location is worth five times as much as another room. If the top prices can be cut out, the House can be assured of never having vacancies caused by a lack of rich applicants.
Doubling up on rooms, however, despite the obvious advantage of allowing more men to gain the benefits of the House system has certain disadvantageous features to which supporters of the status quo can point. For one thing, there is the loss of privacy in the rooms. For another, there is the loss of House spirit and House unity entailed in opening wide the gates. Then there is the impossibility of crowding dining rooms and libraries beyond a certain point. The House-masters, who are at present considering some such scheme as the double-up in a vague sort of way, should remember that the gravity of the present emergency obviates to a great extent these handicaps. It is more important that Harvard shall continue to attract a full quota of students than that a few men should have a "privacy" which by fostering snobbishness may be as harmful as helpful. As for lowering restrictions, it has been notorious for several years that any man with money enough to buy an expensive suite could get into some House unless he was a leper on probation. An undergraduate library, which requires a separate discussion, would dispose of most of the House library problems, but the dining hall situation still remains. Possibly splitting the meal sessions into shifts would help solve the question. In any case, students should be willing to make certain sacrifices from their present unnaturally high standard of living to make up for the gains in expenses.
Chief expenses of the House system are caretaking, maintenance, utilities, administrative costs (including Housemasters' salaries); care of grounds, and libraries. Of these the most easily cut without permanent damage would seem to be the caretaking figure. Hiring maids to come in only once a week per room and leaving the rest to the students themselves would save possibly up to $50 for each student. Faculty members' complaints that the undergraduates would live like pigs in stys bear some validity, but the system has been tried successfully at some prep schools and deserves discussion. It is worth $50 to make one's own bed. If such a change is to be considered, it should be thought over soon so that maids can be warned and allowed to look for jobs during the summer and while jobs are comparatively easy to secure.
The Housemasters insist that they must proceed slowly in their efforts to cut costs and must ponder each move carefully before they make it. Such a desire is justifiable taking into consideration the radical extent of the changes they are being forced to make. But let them remember that the higher costs which they are fighting will wait for no man.
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