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Parietal Rules


Dean Monro and Watson last week expressed deep distress over what they consider to be "a loose moral situation" at Harvard. Dean Monro said present parietal rules and enforcement policies "are encouraging students to think we approve" of immorality, and Dean, Watson proposed a study of the whole situation, saying he was "very seriously" considering a recommendation to cut back parietals.

The terms in which the Deans have couched their remarks are dangerous and wrongheaded. This University would not manipulate rules, or try in any other way, to control the religious or political convictions of its students. Similarly, it should not attempt to control their moral tenets. As long as a student adheres to certain necessary rules of order, his moral code is his own business. By allowing certain freedoms the University is not at all approving behavior which it may consider immoral; it is saying that one learns to use freedom responsibly only by having it, and that each person must define his own morality on the basis of his own experience.

This is exactly the principle Radcliffe acted upon last year when it eliminated sign-out regulations for upper-classmen. And Harvard, in just about all other areas of college life, acts upon the principle that education is a process of finding out for one's self.

Parietal rules should not be discussed, therefore, in moral terms; and in fact most Masters and other administrators consider them to be social rules, instituted to preserve order and decorum in the Houses.

In this light, the principal objection to women in the Houses is that they disturb residents who wish to study or sleep. Another concern is the fear of public scandal from untoward incidents occurring in the Houses during parietal hours.

The first possibility is that a student bringing a girl into his suite would disturb his roommates. This is not a realistic fear; roommates clearly must be able to arrange among themselves how the room is to be used. They do it every day, every time someone wants to play the radio or phonograph, or start a loud bull session.

A more legitimate claim is that having girls in the Houses leads to raucous parties which disturb the other residents. The answer to this is to increase and enforce present rules governing parties attended by more than 12 people. Large parties now have to be registered with the House superintendent; the superintendent or other House personnel should see to it that such parties are reasonably controlled and not allowed to get out of hand. Such enforcement would reduce the disturbing effect parties have on other students, and also reduce drastically the possibility of public scandal. The danger of scandal would remain, but all students should not be punished for the indiscretion of a few. And those who do violate these social rules should be punished.

The quieter tragedies of unwanted pregnancies cannot be prevented by manipulating parietal hours. Unlike wild parties, such occasional incidents will happen in the Houses no matter what restriction, short of total elimination of parietal hours, is imposed, But the Deans are simply wrong in thinking that most Harvard students use their rooms during parietal hours for sexual intercourse. They do not.

Far outweighing the liabilities of allowing women in the Houses, is one great advantage. Life in Cambridge offers the possibility of meeting girls every day in classes, activities, or just around the Square. This means a student can actually be friends with a girl in something approaching a normal way; here one is not forced, as many college men are, to see every girl in terms of a weekend date or as a sex object. The availability of a quiet, private place is a necessary part of this kind of social life. The Houses provide such a place.

In short, parietal hours are the creations of social rules intended to make the Houses a place both of intellectual activity and of relaxed socializing. The logical result of these functions is that if rules adequate to preserving order and decorum are enforced, there is no reason why parietal hours should not be extended. The Masters and Faculty ocght to extend parietal hours, on a trial basis, until 12 on Friday night and 2 a.m. on Saturday night. Since Saturday is a business day for the University, any sort of noisy parties should be prohibited on Friday night, and parties on Saturday should be curtailed after midnight. These proposals are only one reasonable way of extending parietal hours.

The success of any such system of parietals ultimately rests with the students. Students would be more inclined to obey rules which--like the other rules of the University--they respect as reasonable, and as congruent with other University policies. The administration has a responsibility to preserve order in the Houses and to protect Harvard's public reputation. It also has a responsibility to educate its sons in the uses and burdens of freedom. One must crawl before he can walk, but all the crawling in the world will teach one only how to crawl.

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