Freshmen in the Houses:

Competition and Uncertainty

This is the conclusion of a two-part series examining education within the House system.

A MAJOR CONSIDERATION in evaluating the Houses as educational units should be the relation of freshmen to the Houses. In interviews with the Masters of all but two of Harvard's nine residential Houses, each expressed disappointment with the results of the informal affiliation of freshmen with the Houses as instituted this year.

The issue of freshman affiliation centers on a more basic issue--whether there should be a separate freshman year at all. Dean von Stade has written a position paper. "The Case for the Freshman Year," which cites the importance of college class as a concept, the intramural program, freshman extracurricular groups, the experience of the Freshman Council in building leadership, the conviviality witnessed at the Freshman Union, the experience of living with people in a similar social situation, and the logistical difficulties in converting the Yard into Houses as reasons for maintaining a separate freshman year.

To improve the freshman experience, von Stade suggests the recruitment of upperclass advisors, the building of an additional dorm, and the rehabilitation of the Union. Although formal plans for upperclass "fellows" await the adoption of a concrete housing plan, 30-40 students have volunteered for the positions already.

The merits of these arguments aside, it is clear that the position is Harvard and not Radcliffe-oriented. As one Master stated, it is not clear what quality of freshman men makes it an advantage to keep them separate from upperclassmen while freshman women, at Radcliffe, are immediately integrated into Houses.


LIKE THEIR OPINIONS on tutors, the Masters' attitudes on freshman affiliation are cautious.

Smithies thinks this year's experiment has been useful, and while he sees merits in the Yale Plan (each freshman at Yale is immediately assigned to the "residential college" at which he or she will live), he favors "an empirical approach" toward determining what is best. He sees the possible closing of the Freshman Union as part of a potential experiment in bringing the freshmen into the Houses.

Chalmers found the experiment this year less successful than he had hoped. The effort, he said, "is not doing much for anybody," and, while he has not yet taken a position on the advisability of the Yale Plan, he does not think freshman affiliation will work unless House assignments are given when the freshmen first reach Harvard or Radcliffe.

Andress admitted to having questions on the value of a separate freshman area. Only about 25-30 freshmen, Andrews reports, have regularly taken advantage of House activities.

Von Stade called the experiment at Mather House "a flop", and Stewart said the freshmen "did not seem too interested," especially before Christmas.

The issue of the freshman experience does not only include the relationship of freshmen to the Houses during their freshman year. Questions have also been raised on the admission of freshmen into the Houses.

THE MOST PUBLICITY has been given to the case of Adams House, where a group of sophomores conducted a poll to determine whether House members preferred a lottery among all applicants asking for Adams House or a system based on interviews and recommendations. Pollees overwhelmingly preferred the lottery, but several staff members and students alleged that the poll had no relation to the present system of admissions, since the system currently in use was, in their view, not accurately represented in the poll.

In previous years, freshman applicants were interviewed by staff members who turned in written comments and a "grade" for roommate groups interviewed. This year, while the grading system has been dropped and the interviews explained as a chance, primarily, for the freshmen to ask questions, interviewers have asked about applicants' activities and interests.

Furthermore, according to a memorandum for interviewers posted as an "official notice" in Adams House, 10-15 per cent of the applicants will be chosen on the basis of "compelling reasons" either for the student to be living in the House (e.g., physical handicap or strong attachment to relatives living in the House) or for the House to want the student (i.e., "clear evidence of organizational ability or interest in any new or traditional House activity").

The sophomores leading the attempt to change the system argue that the process is "inequitable" and that it encourages competitiveness among freshmen seeking admission to oversubscribed Houses. Their greatest problem, according to John Baker '74, James Downey '74, and David Johnson '74, has been convincing the staff that they are not questioning the people making the decisions or any past decision per se. They are questioning the principles underlying the decision-making process.