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Doubts About Equal Admissions

Brass Tacks

By James W. Muller

WHEN HARVARD and Radcliffe tightened their bond last year, few dissented from the arrangement. In an age of sexual equality or sex-blindness, separation of the two colleges on the basis of sex seemed archaic. It was supposed that common sense demanded the colleges be merged and the last vestiges of differential treatment for undergraduate men and women be ended. No longer would the Radcliffe student have to depend on that favorite fellow in Eliot House for a sent at the Yale game: now she would have a coupon book of her own. Some thought liberation had truly arrived.

The monkey wrench in the works was the inequality of admissions. For years, Radcliffe's admissions office had picked classes of 300 women, causing stiff competition for their attention among the 1200 men. The unlucky three-quarters who were left out found their way to Wellesley, where, as love story reported to matter-of-factly, the women are more compiler. . .Most simply put, a Cllffie who had to be four times as smart as her Harvard counter part to e admitted was difficult to approach. Furthermore, Radcliffe women were reputed to have sharp tongues. But with the coming of women's liberation, they were willing to give up this traditional advantage since they could do without men. Instead, they pressed for the very increase in the size of the Radcliffe class which the men had long favored.

After the colleges came together there seemed no justification for maintaining the inequality of admissions. With strong support from students, equal admissions quickly became a moral issue. Letters were written to administrators, petitions were signed, and many members of the class of '72 fastened equal signs to their mortarboards. The new president of Radcliffe demanded equal admissions. Typically the powers that be capitulated and announced that a move toward equalization would begin immediately. Accordingly a larger, blunter-tongued group of women only two and a half times as smart as their Harvard counterparts settled down in Cambridge this Fall, some even in the previously all-male Yard. Only a few staid old grads lamented the sight of women-eating breakfast by themselves at, the Union. By far the louder complaint was that progress was too slow. But even those who were impatient realized that the University was moving inexorable toward equality.

THE of the decision for equal admissions was a new round of expansion. Instead of decreasing male enrollment at the expense of a well-rounded class female enrollment would be quadrupled gradually. Accordingly Harvard bought the Hotel Continental and spent the summer ripping out its innards to prepare a new housing arrangement in the Fall there was a problem. Since the new dormitory has no dining room its several hundred people were farmed out for the three Radcliffe Houses causing crowding at meals.

But progress toward equalization will require more new housing in acquiring property for new dorms Harvard faces twin problems--money and community dissatisfaction in the last analysis they resolve into the single problem of money Cambridge faced with burgeoning expenses because of paternalistic spending, wants more tax money. Any property which Harvard buys is eliminated from the tax rolls because the University is tax-exempt, and the city loses money. Whether Harvard should be so conscious of its supposed social responsibility is beside the point. In the current situation acquisition of property has a higher real cost than before because Cambridge demands higher payments in lieu of taxes. Harvard can afford to acquire fewer new places of property for dorms and must look more favorably on alternate arrangements.

The House system, fondly described in the 1969 Official Register as "Harvard's answer to the problem of maintaining a collegiate way of living in a twentieth-century college," might not be best for all students, President Bok argued in 1972. Instead of building new Houses, Harvard would seek other accommodations for those who prefer them. Surely this plan is cheaper than building a new House and less contentious than ripping down old frame houses. But the quality of undergraduate living at the college is compromised. That some students prefer alternate arrangements does not mean that these are best. For a diploma mill, a nine to five association with the institution would suffice; for the University, the collegiate way of living is best. Transient movements and causes should not set aside this tradition.

ARECENT PROPOSAL is to raze Bertram Hall in the Radcliffe Quad to make room for a twin of Mather House. This suggestion does incorporate the two desires for economy in construction and building only on property already owned. But unfortunately it ignores the aesthetic integrity of the Quad, which would be violated by such a cement monstrosity. No one bid the old field house at Radcliffe a tearful farewell when it came down for Currier House, but Currier was designed tastefully of brick and it was outside the Quad anyway. True, Bertram Hall is old and decrepit, and renovation is overdue. Modernization similar to the treatment given to some dorms in the Yard would be a boon. But to raze Bertram for a prefabricated high-rise would be a sacrilege scarcely more defensible than leveling Mass Hall to build a mate for Holyoke Center.

Other ideas are no better. For too long, students at the colleges have had to double up because of expansion beyond the University's means or intent to build new housing. More intensive use of present room space by introducing more bunk beds is a suggestion favored only by administrative types who never live in dorms. Another idea proposed by pack-'em-in engineers are to convert common space in the House to single rooms. They cast longing glances at living rooms and party rooms, not realising their importance to House life. But the aim is not to cram as many students as possible into a limited area. Instead it is to provide the most salutary physical atmosphere to complement as outstanding intellectual one.

Housing problems are not the end of the bad effects caused by the colleges' new relationship. Harvardization of Radcliffe has begun in earnest on other ways. Already some of the distinctive features of life at the 'Cliffe which have attracted both men and women despite the 15 minute walk are gone or fading fast. The prospect of a concrete lower to hardly cheering and this year Radcliffe switched over to Harvard means to the disappointment of all. It used to be that one could walk up to the 'Cliffe to get a food meal woe and then. No more. The cleaning people are complaining about the new arrangement for Radcliffe, too; apparently Harvard was scandalously slow to provide them with supplies this year.

By and large these problems are growing pains, but they promise to be permanent. Given the current financial and political climate, Harvard is destined to generate the same negative side-effects with every expansionist move. The University ought seriously to reconsider its commitment to expansion, and by implication, to equal admissions. A more prudent course would be to curtail expansion until a more auspicious time. To compensate for curtailing growth, male enrollment should be cut to make room for more women. Whether equal admissions on these terms would require too deep a cut in the male class is a proper subject of concern. The admissions offices are best equipped to solve the difficult problem of finding the formula that best provides for strength and diversity within the constraints of a smaller class.

But the House system should not be abandoned or compromised for the sake of equal admissions. It will be no credit to this Administration if it leaves Harvard an institution socially avant-garde but educationally waning.

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