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William Liller


By Thomas P. Southwick

WILLIAM LILLER looks like a student. More important, at least to those who will live in Adams House next year, William Liller thinks like a student.

"I still have a lot to learn," he says, leaning back in his shirsleeves as he talks about his new role as Master of Harvard's most overapplied House. "But it wasn't too long ago that I was a student here." Liller, 41, graduated from Harvard in 1949, after four years in Adams House. "It wasn't so crowded. Each person had his own bedroom while I was there," he recalls, "but the diversity of the students was similar."

Now an astronomy professor, Liller roomed all four years in Adams House with a history major. He sees diversity as one of the main strengths of the House and of the College. Though he follows an English professor, retiring master Reuben Brower, he hopes that his being a scientist will not reshape Adams' image.

Liller will not another John Finley. "Above all Adams House must be a nice place to live," he says when asked if he would strive to have more Rhodes scholars or excellent athletes than the other Houses. "I feel that the Houses tend to become too institutionalized resulting in the large requests for off-campus living." He sees few reasons why someone living in a House cannot have the freedom of one who lives off-campus.

FREEDOM is one of Liller's favorite worlds. He calls it the key to the University. "I start from the question," Liller muses, "'What if there were on rules?'" It's a question Liller has not yet answered fully in his own mind, but he has definite ideas. "I strongly resist the encroachments of the University on the everyday life of the students," he affirms. Parietals and other rules should be as liberal as possible, although "drugs are a different matter from parietals." Liller sees his role as that of an adviser, not a policeman or father, and promises to be available but not obnoxious.

Liller also favors a genuine pass-fail system, dismissing Yale's program as a mere hoax on the students. In Liller's eyes, Yale's effort--stipulating Honors, High Pass, Pass, and Fail--represents just another grading system. "A true pass-fail system would give students a chance to take some off best courses. The added freedom is important."

Though Liller holds one of the most prestigious chairs in the Astronomy Department (the Robert Wheeler Wilson Professorsip of Applied Astronomy), he is not above teaching basic courses. He finds his Nat Sci 9 "a great challenge," and takes seriously the job of whetting the appetites of History and English majors.

Master Brower, like Liller, was young when he took over the House, and Liller hopes to continue his policies. "Master Brower favors a turnover in masters, and should be applauded for those views. I hope that when the time comes to step down, I shall have as much grace and foresight as he did."

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