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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

Still Needed: 'Real House' for Non-Residents

Commuters Lack Group Spirit, Contact With Other Students

By Craig K. Comstock

Though the College is predominantly residential, and proud of it, over 11 per cent of its students now live off-campus as "commuters." Thirty years ago when the stock market crashed, the percentage was up over 40, but then Harkness gave Harvard its Houses, President Conant laid heavy stress on "national distribution," and the non-resident segment began shrinking to its present minimum.

As House-members moved into their multi-million dollar hotels on the river-front, the commuters were left with nothing but their bookbags, and those who went home at night were regarded as black sheep in the Harvard herd. In the early Thirties a professor sensationally described College policy toward "the untouchables" as "resignation under defeat," and an official recently active in Dudley affairs observed that, until the past few years, the Administration has "seemed to turn its head and hope that commuters would go away."

Plans for Center Nebulous

When the College announced its $82.5 million Program, however, the construction of a new commuter center, "yielding nothing whatever in style or quality to the existing residential Houses," was put in the "front rank of Harvard's immediate concern." Last December the existing commuter center attained House status when Dean Leighton arrived at Dudley as its first Master. The words "Dudley Hall" on the front door were changed to "Dudley House," and new stationery was promptly ordered.

But--as non-residents watched steamshovels break ground for Quincy House, the Leverett Towers, and the Loeb Theatre--their hopes for a new center faded into mild despair. It now appears that the Administration has abondoned plans to build a $1 million Non-Resident House on the corner of Plympton and Mt. Auburn, in back of the Fly Club. Commuters were highly pleased to get a Master, but, as one of them put it, "we still need a real House."

At present, the commuter center--such as it is--sprawls out into parts of two buildings. The junior common room (an entrance hall with couches and coat-racks) and a rather plain cafeteria are located on the first floor of Dudley Hall on Dunster Street. In Apley Court (a block away on Holyoke) are the House offices, a music-typing room, the library (seating 16), and an overnight bunk-room. Not only decentralized, these facilities are makeshift and inadequate.

On a general questionnaire prepared by the CRIMSON and mailed to all non-residents, one discouraged student speculated that the College "will try to liquidate the commuter 'problem" by tearing down the present Dudley and forgetting to put up a new commuter center." In a policy statement prepared for this article, however, President Pusey explains both the building delay and the College's commitment to its non-residents (see box). Worthy of the closest attention, this statement indicates that the Administration has come to some basic decisions, not only about the care and feeding of commuters, but also about the future composition of the College.

Though architect's drawings for a $1 million Non-Resident House have been put on the shelf, Lehman Hall (the University's "counting house") may be converted for commuter use. According to a preliminary study, the building would be easy to adapt, except for the problem of providing a service entrance off busy Massachusetts Ave. But, before commuters can occupy Lehman, the Comptroller's Office must move out, and this change must wait until the College raises $10 million to build its Health Center-Office Building complex on the block where Dudley now stands.

Potpourri of Types

For one thing, the Administration's reaffirmed decision to provide an adequate non-resident facility--sometime, somewhere--implies that the percentage of commuters is expected to neither rise nor decline drastically. It is now 11.4 per cent, and this figure hides an amazing potpourri of commuter types. Of 513 non-residents this year, about 30 per cent are "non-resident members of residential Houses"--meaning that, after "living in" for two years, they have moved out for one reason or another, retaining "courtesy membership." These students do not, of course, belong to Dudley House.

Of the remaining 349 non-residents, almost 30 per cent are either married or what Leighton calls "old men"--students whose college careers have been interrupted. About a third are new freshmen, of whom 66 students are "forced, though not necessarily unwilling" commuters, and 52 are just plain "voluntary" commuters. (As recently announced, the Class of '63 will have no "forced" commuters.) The other Dudley members, around 129 students, are "other upperclassmen."

"If this isn't enough to thoroughly confuse you," as Leighton is fond of saying, 44 members of Dudley House are residential, living either in the Cooperative House on Sacramento Street, or on the upper floors of Apley Court. Some of these residents are "commuter" leaders whom Dudley would lose to the residential Houses if it could not provide resident facilities of its own.

Sharp Application Increase

Though the percentage of non-resident students the College accepts each year rests on a policy decision and can be closely regulated, all indications point to a radical increase in applications from local boys who will offer to live at home if admitted. Dean Monro, former Director of the Financial Aid Office, outlines two increasing pressures on the local applicant:

* Every day in every way the cost of "going away to college" is leap-frogging. This year, for example, Harvard's tuition shot up 25 per cent, and room rents go up 15 per cent next term. Many families--especially those with more than one child away at school--are running close to the financial margin, and commuting is a decidedly less expensive way to attend college.

* Whereas residents consume valuable dormitory space, commuters are a kind of "super-cargo," and in the face of tougher and tougher competition, the local boy will find it increasingly easier to gain admission to Harvard as a commuter than, say, to Yale as a resident. More and more, he will have to choose between "living in" at a less than first rate college, or living with his family and attending Harvard.

Of course, this suggests that commuting students are not, on the whole, as bright as their classmates, and such seems to be the case. According to Dean Bender, the average commuter has a lower Predicted Rank List than the average resident, and with only about 16 major "feeder schools" close enough to send their graduates to the College, the number of qualified applicants from this area appears limited.

In the Classes of '58 to '61, only 35.4 per cent of students admitted from these "feeder schools" made the Dean's List, compared to 39.9 per cent of all students. In addition, 9.5 per cent did "unsatisfactory" work, whereas only 8.8 per cent of all students fell into this category.

Both Monro and Leighton, however, feel that many of the best qualified students in Greater Boston high schools are not even applying to the College--apparently preferring residency in a second-class college to the trials of commuting. If Harvard makes its non-resident operation more attractive, they argue, the percentage of top-notch local applicants will increase to a marked degree.

Thousand Commuters?

Predicting a "significant rise" in the number of commuting students, Monro speaks of 1000 non-residents as "by no means out of the question." Though this is speculation, and not a proposal, the Dean thus underlines the greater role commuters are destined to play in College planning--three, five, ten years in the future.

As one aspect of this planning, President Pusey mentions the "individuality" of non-residents, referring to their special place within the House system. For almost thirty years, two proposals have dominated the discussion on how to integrate commuters into the "life of the College." On the one hand, Dean Bender suggests affiliation of all commuters with the residential Houses as a desirable possibility. Worried about the "isolation" of commuting students, Bender objects to their being "sequestered in a place like Dudley on the basis of economics and geography."

Feeling that college is the time to "cut the umbilical cord, make friends, and see what residency is like," Bender proposes splitting the non-resident upperclassmen into seven groups, assigning each to a House, where a "day room" with lockers and perhaps showers would be provided. His idea is not a new one. In the early Thirties, a graduate wrote to the Alumni Bulletin:

'Supercargo' for the Houses

"If the existing seven Houses can physically make room for extra seats in the dining room, common room, and library, why not a supercargo of 'forgotten men' who, for a proper fee, can become attached to a selected House, grow up with it for three years, and take part in weekday luncheons, House athletics, special dinners, and social gatherings? In other words, become a recognized part of the House for all but breakfast, routine dinner, evening study, and sleeping quarters."

Furthermore, the Student Council in 1953 issued a report observing that "to admit a group only to the intellectual life of the University, to segregate it, make it eat, play, and talk together, to deprive it of all the benefits which more varied contacts would give, is simply to develop in Harvard a group which is not wholly of Harvard."

As Pusey notes in his statement, however, this plan of affiliation could not be adopted. In the first place, the Masters of the residential Houses were not eager to assume a greater administrative load, or to further overcrowd their physical facilities. Secondly, the commuters themselves, as shown by a poll in 1953, were almost unanimously opposed. Not wanting to spread out their sack lunches beneath the crystal chandeliers of Lowell House, they felt it better to have one strong Dudley than seven weak ones. Similar to the Revolutionary aphorism, their reaction was "Let's hang together or we'll hang seperately."

Least Expensive Model

But not all commuters carry sack lunches. For that matter, not all live at home for financial reasons. But the need to save money is the number one reason for non-residency, and Leighton explains in definite figures the difference in price:

"Harvard is something like the automobile market. Our best model--full residency--sells for around $2750, and our least expensive model--living at home--comes to only $1800. Between the extremes, we now offer residency in Apley Court or Wigglesworth (with no board charge) for $2500, and living in the Cooperative House (with a mild work requirement) for $2200."

Likening non-residency to the inexpensive foreign cars, Leighton points out that, during the 1957 "auto recession," sales of such models tripled. "The College has been advertising only its most expensive model," he points out, and this spring for the first time, application forms for upperclass rooms carried this listing: "Cooperatives--$110" per term. In addition, all members of Dudley were asked to fill out a special section.

For 1959-60, Dudley is offering a total of 77 residental places 29 in the present Cooperative House, 16 in a new house on Massachusetts Avenue on the upper floors of Apley Court, and 23 in J and K entries of Wigglesworth. As Leighton expect- ed, response this year has not been enthusiastic.

Even of Dudley House does succeed in attracting a hard core of "resident commuters," however, its problems as a commuter center are far from solved. In an article in the Dudley Reporter (the House's dittographed newspaper), a student claims that, for 80 per cent of commuters, "Dudley is no more than an occasional snack bar, and a ping-pong and dance hall for most of the others." He continues: "The same names appear with monotonous regularity in the House Committee, Dance Committee, sports events, at dances, and on the Reporter's masthead. The number of Dudley men who, by being active in the affairs of the Housee would derive real benefit from a new center, is proably less than ten per cent of the whole."

In an effort to determine the attitudes of commuters toward their center--and themselves, a one page poll was sent to over 3500 non-residents. To date, about a third have been returned. While no precise statistics can be derived from such a sampling, most of the questionnaire was concerned not with numbers, but with reactions and suggestions. For these questions, the commuters were faced simply with a blank line.

About a third get to the Square by bike or on foot, and their average time for a one-way trip is 15 minutes. Another third who drive or get rides with friends take about a half hour, and the others come by public transportation, averaging 45 minutes per trip. The average non-resident spends a working day of 8.5 hours somewhere at Harvard, and the 70 per cent who use Lamont spend three hours a day in the sterilized stacks.

Though roughly half of all commuters never set foot in Dudley, the others eat lunch there, on the average of three or four times a week. About a quarter of these bring sack lunches; the others buy from a cafeteria selection that includes excellent ham-and cheeseburgers. Half did not list any extracurricular activity except "work," but the rest claim to spend around seven hours a week on a wide variety of clubs and sports.

One student, disturbed that he was not asked directly to list the advantages of commuting, took the questionnaire's suggestion to jot down comments on the back:

"The most important reason for being a commuter is financial. . . . Secondly, if I were living in a House, probably most of my friendships would be with other House members. In contrast and far more preferable is my situation in which I have friends in almost all the Houses, in several of the graduate schools, and among people who have graduated and have jobs in the Boston area.

"A third reason is privacy. When I want to be alone, I can; when I want to see other people, I can always drop in on friends. Fourth, I suffer from no parietal rules to restrict my making friends. . . . Last, and for once, least, I can wear a T-shirt to dinner if I want. I don't have to eat three meals a day in a Kiwanis Club atmosphere."

Most students, however, emphasized, and listed among them: "time wasted traveling," "out of touch with classmates," "trouble finding parking places," "lack of close association with students of different backgrounds," "daily contact with family often cumbersome," "sense of isolation," "lack of intellectual atmosphere," "feeling as though I were still attending high school," "nearly zero contact with the faculty," and "inability to make full use of Lamont."

Asked to react to "second-class citizen" as a "stock phrase," the majority considered it--and rejected it--as a description of the commuter, the most typical comment being "nonsense" followed by one of more exclamation points. Others, however, saw a "grain of truth." "Many commuters suffer from an inferiority complex . . . and show it," wrote one, and another snapped out: "I gather that as a member of Dudley I belong to an underprivileged group of some sort." A third non-resident observed that "I haven't come up against scorn; what I do resent is the automatic pity I get for being a commuter."

Questionable Morale

Commenting on the phrase, "commuter espirit de corps," students ranged from humor to bitterness. "Will be formed when Napoleon is appointed Master," wrote one wag. "You meet happy people on the MTA," another improvised. "Ridiculous and hollow," "frightening artificiality," and "a rationalization for dissatisfied commuters"--these were other reactions, together with "Pleasant in many ways, but causes a provincial, cliquish atmosphere," and "Definitely true--too much, perhaps makes us clannish." This sentiment was echoed in other parts of the poll.

Tutor-student contact in Dudley was called "almost non-existent, otherwise amicable," and "no worse than the other Houses." But other commuters have gotten to know the tutors, and their reaction was "improving," "gaining," even "excellent." Most, however, found the same barrier that exists in many of the residential Houses: "Staff sits together at lunch, and it is difficult to approach them without a sense of intrusion."

The commuters' athletic program drew a mixed response--"good spirit and interest, although lack of time to participate puts Dudley at the bottom of the Straus competition." Though one student claimed that it was "well-run, despite natural difficulties," another said the program was "terrible because of student apathy and commuter inconveniences." All college students complain of the lack of time, but commuters, who average a half hour on the road per day, have reason to complain a little louder.

Furthermore, not all Dudleymen even bother to grace Dudley's door-step, and many of those who do regard it as merely a coat-rack and cafeteria. The place lacks tone--participation is erratic. The result: an athletic program that is "good, but difficult to support adequately," or as another commuter put it more accurately, "good on paper, but lacking in spirit."

Dudley's social atmosphere was called "very gregarious," "jovial and merry," but also "rowdy," "lowbrow, unattractive," and "high-schoolish." The story is told about a Social Committee meeting some years ago which was voting on whether to accept the residential inter-House ticket for the Dudley dance. "No," said one commuter firmly, "we don't want those Ivy Leaguers at our party." Staff members took that as a danger signal, and commuters are now accepting more fully the social norms of their classmates--including ties and jackets in the dining hall.

Asked to suggest physical improvements for Dudley, commuters gave a long list, including more room for quiet studying, better game room, more gracious dining hall, junior common "that isn't just an entrance hall," several small meeting rooms, and shower facilities. Other notable items: more lockers and coat-racks, a coffee shop, "huge" parking lot, evening meals, larger bunkroom, bicycle and scooter parking, and most of all--a new, centralized facility designed with the commuting student in mind.

When asked whether or not the College should accept an increased percentage of commuters in coming years, many voiced "no opinion." Of those who did, however, the majority was against such expansion. What is significant are their reasons: "commuters are too homogenous a group," and "commuters are cheated out of college life." One non-resident even expressed the thought, "commuting is, generally speaking, a drag," and another unhappy student closed his little essay with these words: "war and commuting--they're both hell."

These unfortunate themes--of isolation, of college as a mere extension of high school, of commuter weariness--are firmly underlined by observations such as: "commuting may be a necessary evil, but I see no reason to make it a greater problem." In effect, this is Pusey's point when he mentions this "less than the best of all possible worlds." Even if living at home is not an "evil," which seems rather strong terminology, it is a less than ideal way to attend college.

The non-residents themselves have few illusions about their contributions to the College as a whole.5APLEY COURT

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