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Housing

Or the Harvard-to-Radcliffe Crowded-Room Bad-Ratio Blues

By Merrick Garland

The author is the Quincy House representative to the Committee on Houses and Undergraduate Life.

WHEN President Bok announced that the current male-female undergraduate ratio would be lowered over the next four years, with only a minor decrease in the number of men admitted, he set off an epidemic of planning among Harvard students and faculty--particularly in the Committee on Houses and Undergraduate Life--that yielded some 20 different housing proposals in almost as many days. All of the proposals begin with the simple recognition that, over the next four years, there will just be too many bodies at Harvard-Radcliffe to continue with current housing arrangements. Each proposal, at root, is built upon basic assumptions about what is crucial to the "Harvard experience."

The new situation created by the President's decision requires both a short-term and long-term response. In the short-term, before new construction can occur, some rearrangement of the freshman living situation is clearly required. With approximately 50 less man per class and 150 more women per class, a continuation of the current freshman housing pattern leaves empty spaces in the Yard and puts the crunch on the Radcliffe houses. Most of the housing proposals developed by students and faculty deal with this short-range problem. In the long-term, it is equally clear that new construction will be necessary to house the increase of 400 undergraduates over four years, and there are a flock of proposals to deal with that problem as well.

PROPONENTS of the short-term proposals can be divided into three broad categories on the basis of their assumptions about what is essential to a "healthy" residential community. Those categories are: 1) proponents of the "Harvard Way," 2) proponents of the "Radcliffe Way," and 3) proponents of "squeeze 'em in" or "holding pattern" housing.

To understand the "Harvard Way" proposals, one must first understand the Harvard way, an all-freshmen, all-male, Harvard Yard freshman year. The advantages of this separate freshman year, as expressed by F. Skiddy von Stade Jr. '37, dean of freshmen, include: "A sense of shared experience, the formation of life-time friendships, the formation of "college class" identity essential for alumni activities, (and) an intramural and activity program where freshmen are not low men on the totem pole."

Critics of the current Yard set-up claim the disadvantages of such an arrangement begin with the compounding of problems that occurs when people with similar troubles are concentrated in one residential area. Add 'this to the lack of opportunity for developing relationships with upperclassmen, and the frustrations and related problems that sex-segregated housing patterns create for male freshmen--freshmen are left in a one-year collegiate purgatory. Are male freshmen really so miserable? It all depends on which survey you read. A University Hall survey of a few years ago reports that freshmen are generally satisfied with the existing arrangements. However, a recent "Freshmen Task Force Report" from the Bureau of Study Council contends that just the opposite is true. In general, there is at least wide-spread agreement that significant improvements could be made in the freshman year.

AS A RESULT of that general agreement, most of the "Harvard Way" plans significantly modify the Harvard way. One plan, however, sticks strictly to tradition: the Von Stade-Peterson Plan. Under this proposal, the 100-150 "extra" women would be housed at Radcliffe, 100-150 additional female upperclassmen would move to the Harvard Houses, and 100 male upperclass volunteers would move into the Yard as advisors. Such a plan would not change the basic assumptions of the current system but would provide male freshmen with some upperclass contact. Its major disadvantage is that by decreasing the number of upperclass women, while increasing the number of freshmen, it brings the ratio of freshmen to upperclassmen in the Radcliffe Quad to such a high level that several Radcliffe Masters and many Radcliffe students feel it would result in the collapse of the Radcliffe Houses. In recognition of this problem. Von Stade himself has shifted his support to one of the modified "Harvard Way" plans that would create a coed freshman year.

The modified "Harvard Way" proposals, the first of which was developed by undergraduates Keith Raffel '72 and Jamie Gorelick '72 (who no longer supports her own proposal), involve two basic actions which, in essence, create a coed freshman year with upperclass advisors, both in the Yard and in the Quad. First, the "extra" women, plus more women from the entering class of '76, would be housed in Harvard Yard. Second, a certain number of males of the class of '76 would be housed with freshman women in a Freshman Unit at Radcliffe (possibly parts of North and South House). The ratio of men to women in the Yard would be adjusted to approximately a 3-1 ratio, while the Radcliffe Freshman Unit would have approximately a 1.5-1 ratio. Finally, a significant number of upperclass men and women volunteers would be housed in the Yard to serve as freshman advisors.

THE Gorelick-Raffel Plan provides the advantages of the Harvard way, while at the same time attempting to ameliorate its disadvantages. It does this by making the freshman year coed, and by including upperclassmen and women in ratios that will not leave women in the Yard completely isolated from other freshmen women or from upperclass female guidance. It also alleviates the freshman imbalance problem in the Radcliffe Houses by taking the freshmen out of the Houses and placing them in a Freshman Unit (According to its authors, this part of the plan is flexible and might allow for dispersal of freshmen among the Radcliffe Houses if that proves more desirable). Finally, it represents no permanent commitment--if the plan is a disaster it can be discontinued in the following year. The principle disadvantage of the plan is that regardless of its ratios, it reduces the number of upperclass contacts (particularly with other women) which are available to Radcliffe freshmen under the current arrangement.

Proposals which fall in the "Radcliffe Way" category might equally well be entitled: "If you've got it so bad, why make us suffer too?" Those proposals reject the imposition of the Harvard freshman year on all students, and propose the adoption of the Radcliffe way instead. Under the current Radcliffe system, Radcliffe freshmen live in the Radcliffe houses, along with both male and female upperclassmen. Disciples of the Radcliffe way cite the advantages of coed living, of extensive contacts with upperclassmen, and of house spirit as significant benefits of the Radcliffe system. Detractors claim that such a system of separation by houses prevents the formation of class spirit, limits freshmen involvement in extracurricular activities because they are "lowest on the totem pole," and deters the formation of interhouse friendships--creating a parochial outlook on the part of students.

THE proposals which are built on the assumptions of the "Radcliffe Way" are best illustrated by the North House Plan, a four-stage program for the conversion of the Yard into three houses and the complete elimination of a separate freshman year. In the first stage (next year), 120 freshman women would be housed in Leverett House, along with 120 upperclass women--the remainder being upperclass men. (A modification of this proposal by President Bunting involves the placement of the additional women admitted next year into the Harvard Houses with the most upperclass women). Eventually, the Yard would be converted into houses which freshmen would enter upon arrival in Cambridge.

The advantages of this proposal are those, already discussed, of the "Radcliffe Way." In addition to the disadvantages previously mentioned, critics of this plan point to two further problem areas. First, the stage-one program of placing 120 freshmen in Leverett House is viewed as creating a severe class-imbalance for that house. Under this plan, no sophomore males would be admitted this year, and 100 upperclassmen currently in residence would have to move. Second, critics also contend that conversion of the Yard into houses would be an extremely expensive proposal (mainly due to masters' and tutors' salaries, as well as the construction of dining rooms, libraries and other house facilities required to really created "houses") which would not add any additional living space. Thus even if this proposal were accepted, the argument continues, further expenditures for new housing to accommodate 400 additional people over four years would still be required. The expense makes the adoption of this proposal by President Bok highly unlikely in the near future.

THE FINAL approach to the problem is, in fact, a non-approach, which might appropriately be entitled the "squeeze 'em in" Plan. This plan begins with the fact that approximately 50 additional spaces (beyond those used this year) can be "found" in the Yard for next year by a combination of squeezing (turning triples into quads), using Dudley House's part of Wiggles worth, and turning 8 Prescott Street into a dorm. In addition, some 40 additional spaces can be found at Radcliffe, by both squeezing and converting unused dorm kitchens into student rooms. Thus it is possible, just in terms of the number of rooms and the number of bodies, and not because of any kind of commitment to a Harvard or Radcliffe way, to squeeze the additional people into the spaces available. Just who would be squeezed, and where, has not been made clear.

While the above proposals deal basically with the housing of freshmen, and so alleviate problems for 1972-3, long-range proposals are still necessary for the construction of housing for the additional 400 people who will be added over four years (approximately 100 per year). One proposal is to tear down Hunt Hall (at the north end of the Yard) and to construct an additional freshman dormitory in its site. This construction is supported by adherents to the modified "Harvard Way" plans--those seeking a coed, separate (but with upperclass advisors) freshman year. With an additional unit, all freshmen (male and female) could be housed in the Yard and the additional spaces at Radcliffe freshmen to the Yard, could be used for the extra upperclassmen.

A SECOND construction proposal is to tear down President Bunting's house (after she leaves it) and to construct a new "house" on its site. Finally, a third proposal would simply build smaller additions to existing houses. Both of these latter two construction plans could accommodate equally well either the modified "Harvard Way" or "Radcliffe Way" proposals.

The evolution of all these plans began late this Fall when student and faculty members of the Committee on Houses and Undergraduate Life began meeting with Dean Whitlock and other administrators to formulate both short- and long-range proposals. Suggestions from outside the Committee were made continuously: many of the 20 proposals being the work of groups of interested students and masters in the houses (i.e. the North House and South House plans). Student members of CHUL also met with the Overseers' Visiting Committee to discuss the proposals. Currently, Dean Whitlock has been meeting, with four student members of CHUL to analyze all of the existing plans and to formulate a final proposal which he and the students will soon present to President Bok. The final decision will be made by the President, in consultation with President Bunting and Deans Dunlop and Whitlock. That decision is expected sometime within the next two weeks.

The freshman housing arrangement finally adopted for next year will probably not be any of the specific proposals mentioned above, but rather a combination of them, including a coed unit or units (with upperclass advisors) which may or may not include all freshmen. An additional twist has been added to the situation by Harvard's possible purchase of the Continental Hotel (capable of housing 142 people), which may or may not be renovated in time for use in the Fall. Exactly how (or whether) the hotel will fit into housing plans for next year has not yet been decided.

THE MAJOR difficulty in formulating a satisfactory plan is the necessity to juggle the four often conflicting constraints of the issue: the number and location of available spaces, the number and ratio of men and women in the college, the necessity of having small enough male-female ratios to prevent discomfort on the part of female freshmen, and the necessity of having small enough freshmen upperclassmen ratios to provide adequate upperclass contact and advising. Due to the problems that such a juggling creates, it is probable that any plan will meet with at least initial disappointment on the part of some segments of the undergraduate community. It is to be hoped, however, and it appears likely, that whatever plan or combination of plans is finally adopted, it will not be a mere mathematical fitting of people into available places, but will represent an honest effort to lighten the burden of the Freshman Experience.

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