The Coed Mess

THE MAY Committee's plans for coeducational living-announced the day before Spring break-will go into effect next Monday when the 480 Radcliffe students with low lottery numbers submit their applications for rooms next year. The plan's hasty conception, almost unintelligle explication, and immediate enactment have prevented any serious review of what is a seriously flawed blueprint for coeducational living. While the May Committee emphasizes that the plan only applies to next year, it also proposes action for the next three years.

It is likely that this plan will have a much greater longevity than envisioned by students: it should be drastically altered-or discarded-before it has taken effect.

To be fair to Dean May, any plan proposed within the present Harvard-Radcliffe context will necessarily have considerable shoricomings. The flaws in his plan only point out the urgency for a renewed drive for merger. The discussion of coeducational housing should not stop with the vagaries and complexities of the plan's logistics, but should serve as a springboard to the larger questions raised by a merger of Harvard and Radcliffe.

The present Harvard Radcliffe relationship contains an institutionalized discrimination against women that penalizes them most blatantly in their living conditions. A major problem in any plan for coeducational housing is the strong aversion Harvard men have to ieaving their Houses for Radcliffe dorms. Men may go to Radcliffe now for practical motives, but as the Houses become coed there will be less and less advantages for men who choose to live at Radcliffe. And no plan that distributes women in Houses according to limited quotas can crase the four-to-one ratio of men to women. Unless one argues that there is a justification for having all-male Houses as bastions of masculinity where men can avoid coed living (which would be comparable to providing all-white Houses for those interested), there will be a relatively small number of women in every House as long as the present sex ratio exists here.

The solution is not to devise ingenious methods for channeling Radcliffe students into Houses to gain some desired quota, but to admit more women. While the University is unwilling to face that problem now, it must realize that the logic of coeducational housing leads to that conclusion. No system can be completely equitable within the present system, and no solution will emerge until the ratio of men to women is redressed.


Given this context, however. Dean May's plan still contains serious drawbacks which only compound the weaknesses of the current situation. The Cliffies who are submitting their rooming applications next Monday were qualified by placing in the low third of their classes in a lottery for rooms. As a result, only the bottom 160 from each class may apply to Harvard and those 160 must choose their roommates from the group. While mathematically impeccable. such a lottery ignores the system of suites at Harvard. This sole criterion of numbers means that girls cannot necessarily room with their friends but must pick roomates exclusively from the group of girls with low numbers. For some, it will be a difficult choice between living at Harvard and living with friends.

A more reasonable lottery would have accounted for the existence of suites by stipulating that groups wishing to room together draw one number. The groups with low numbers could then apply for suites in the Houses. But the numbers have already been drawn and the 480 girls who drew low numbers would feel justifiably betrayed if the first lottery was discarded. A lesser evil than a wholly new lottery would be to allow women to form groups now and average their numbers. While this would create difficult conflicts, it would at least add a flexibility to the plan that is sorely lacking.

THE MAY Committee also set up a nearly undecipherable voting system to determine what Houses should go coed. The 480 Cliffies will rank the Houses in order of preference and those results will be fed into a computer with results of another poll on the most desirable ratios of men to women in the Houses. If this is an attempt to give the students a voice in deciding what Houses should admit women, it is a highly dubious exercise in democracy. The voters are deciding, but they don't know what their votes will mean. Presumably, the computer will give them what they want.

It is not clear why such a convoluted system is needed to determine this question. The May Committee has said that a six-to-one ratio-the ratio which would result if the 480 were split evenly between all nine Houses-is "unsatisfactory," but it offered little documentation for that belief. The Cliffies participating in the coed experiment this semester-who would seem to be the group with the most informed opinions-have not been consulted in any systematic fashon. And the results of polls of Radcliffe students can only reflect a vague preference for a certain ratio. The committee's point that Radcliffe students do not want to be "small islands within seas of men" ignores the reality that Radcliffe students are outnumbered by a four-to-one margin.

The May Committee has based its opposition to the six-to-one ratio on references to other schools and on testimony at one open hearing. However, the meeting attracted only a small crowd and can hardly be called sufficient consultation with Radcliffe students. The committee's analogies to other schools (such as Yale) can be answered with other cases (such as Williams, which, after extensive study, has proposed a ratio far exceeding any Harvard is contemplating).

If the rejection of the six-to-one ratio is a mistake, then it would not only be just but feasible to allow any House to go coed if it could supply enough rooms. The Cliffies could still apply to the Houses of their choice and the Houses would have the responsibility of admitting them. Morcover. the complicated process of admitting women to all-male Houses next Spring would be climinated, as each House would simply fill its vacancies with sophomore applicants from Radcliffe.

What is disturbing about the present plan is the sense of haste and confusion surrounding the committee's decision. Only Dean May has shown any understanding of its complexities. and students, who were consulted in only the most perfunctory manner, have had little opportunity to challenge a system that will have such a great efect on life at Harvard. Dean May should postpone the date for applications and allow sufficient time to explain the plan, answer objections, and make changes. There is no reason to wait until next year to examine this plan.

The apparent disregard shown for the opinions of Radcliffe students is symptomatic of the plan's unacceptability. For even if the inadequacies of the current coeducational housing plan are dealt with, the crucial issue of redefining the position of women at Harvard will still remain.