Harvard The Class Struggle

1. MY ROOM AT HARVARD. Leafing through the course catalog, I discover four courses which relate to my projected thesis topic. Three are house humanities courses, one is a graduate seminar in Comparative Literature. All have limited enrollment. Exuberantly, marking the margins with my Flair, I consider which of the four I'd prefer to take.

2. The next day, I go to the various house offices to file applications. At North House, I record the time and place of the first meeting: Monday, 2 p. m. at Hilles.

3. Monday, the first day of classes. Two of my roommates are also applying to the humanities courses. Since two of the courses meet at the same time, we decide cooperatively who will go to which ones. I choose to go to North House.

4. 11 a. m. I discover that the chart listing first meetings of courses says Monday, 11 a. m. for the North House course. In a fit of anxiety, I walk from 2 Divinity Avenue to Hilles. At the door, the guard, perhaps recognizing the look in my eye, asks me if I came for the North House course. He informs me that it will meet at 2.

5. 2 p. m. Over 150 people show up for 15 places. I sign up for interviews for myself and my two roommates; mine is scheduled for Tuesday at 7:30 p. m.

6. Tiring progressively on the hike back (I was up most of the previous night), I remember to stop off to see the tutor who is giving the Dunster House course. I want to ask him if I must attend the first meeting. (It conflicts with another of my classes.) He is glad to see me, since he has already winnowed his list down to 18 names. After interviewing the owners of these names, he will cut the list down to 13. He wants to interview me. After a few incoherent replies to his questions, I ask if I can return later after getting some sleep. He smiles graciously. I stagger back to my room and fall into a sleep of depression.

7. 8 p. m. After consulting with my roommates, I go over to Sever 11 to attend a meeting for applicants who couldn't attend the 2 p. m. meeting of the Eliot House course. A few other people are there. On the blackboard in the room, a chalked sign reads: "Hum 96g is playing hard to get. Report to Harvard 4A for further instructions." We troop to Harvard Hall, where we find there is no 4A. After several desperate minutes, we return to Sever and find the meeting in progress. I begin to realize the nature of the competition.

8. 10:30 p. m. Back with the Dunster House tutor. Walking in, I interrupt another applicant's interview. She is discussing William Blake with the tutor. I am invited in and answer questions for 15 minutes. As I leave, they resume their discussion of Blake.

9. TUESDAY, 2 p. m. After a departmental tutorial lecture, individual tutorials congregate to decide on the time of the first meeting. My tutor suggests Thursday, 2-4. Unable to remember when my Comp Lit seminar has its first meeting and unable to find a catalog, I guess and ask him to change the meeting to 4-6. Everyone agrees. It is not until I return to my room that I find the seminar meets Thursdays, from 4-6.

10. 7:30 p. m.: My North House interview. After an uninspired discussion of Ulysses and a statement of my reasons for wanting to take the course, I prepare to go. Before I leave, my interviewer tells me that because of the high number of applicants, most will have to be rejected.

11. Wednesday 11 a. m. I go to the office of the professor giving the Comp Lit graduate seminar. He is not in. I ask his secretary the chances of an undergraduate's being admitted to the course. Pretty good, she thinks. I should go to the first meeting. I tell her that I can't. Well, she says, then my chances aren't too good. I arrange an appointment for Friday, 10:30 a. m. and leave wondering how anyone can be so stupid.

12. Wednesday, 11:30 a. m. I hear I have been rejected from the Eliot House course. One of my roommates has been accepted.

13. Thursday, 10 a. m. I find that my name has been dropped from the Dunster list. Four others were cut also.

14. Friday, 10:30 a. m. I go to the office of the Comp Lit professor. When I walk in, I see my written application in the center of his desk. On the top, in big red letters, is the word NO. I look up. This is a graduate seminar, he tells me. Seniors are occasionally admitted. Juniors rarely. Sophomores, as a general rule, never. He asks me if I can give him a good reason to make an exception to the rule. I can't.

15. 1 p. m. I walk to the North House office to check the list of accepted applicants. My name isn't on it. The name of my other roommate is.

16. My room at Harvard. Studying the course catalog, copy down a few names of courses.

17. Saturday and Sunday. Searching for a fourth course, I cross-examine my friends.

18. Monday, 10 a. m. On my way to a possible course, I meet a friend. He is going to a Hum course. Open enrollment. Kismet, I say, and go with him.

19. 11:15. My room at Harvard. I fill out my study card and throw out my catalog.