The Housing Crisis: Chickens Are Roosting

1973 WAS a year of crisis for the Harvard housing system, and the coming 12 months promise little recovery. The disease undermining the system will not go away of its own accord, and its symptoms--overcrowded dorms, unbalanced freshman House applications and a growing reluctance among undergraduates to live at Radcliffe--will return in more virulent form next year unless the University quickly prescribes some much needed medicine.

Pointing a finger at the culprit is virtually impossible. Many different ingredients constitute the mess: the 2.5 to 1 sex ratio arising out of Harvard's non-merger merger, the housing shake-up performed in March by the Committee on Houses and Undergraduate Life (CHUL), a possible reversal of the recent trend toward leave taking, a small senior class and the inadequacy of the present plan for assigning freshmen to Houses. Any one of these reasons could have made the roof cave in this Spring.

And cave in it did. When the Housing Office distributed freshman housing assignments for the Class of 1976 in mid-May, a record 15 per cent of the freshmen--compared to only 10 per cent the year before--discovered to their misery that they had not been assigned to any of the five Houses they had listed on their application. In addition the number of freshmen assigned to their first-choice Houses dropped from 49 to 45 per cent because a few Houses received most of the applications. As a result, 45 per cent of the men not assigned to one of their first five choices were grouped in one of four undersubscribed Houses.

One hundred twenty men and 18 women who had not designated the 'Cliffe as one of their choices, were assigned to Radcliffe. This set off the loudest uproar. Most vocal in this angry group were approximately 35 athletes who stood firm on what they called their "right to choose between Radcliffe and Harvard." To solve the situation, the athletes proposed, CHUL should reverse part of its March decision and allow sophomores unwilling to move to Radcliffe to live in Claverly Hall this Fall and in Harvard Houses the following year.

CHUL budged, but not far enough for the adamant freshmen. Although the Committee agreed to ease restrictions on Fall term transfers and thereby facilitate sophomore transfers from Radcliffe to Harvard next year, it refused to reopen Claverly to upperclassmen.

(CHUL decided in March to convert Claverly to an all-freshmen dorm.)

While the Yardlings were protesting for their "rights," another housing dispute, centered around over-crowding in Houses, was also building quickly. Secretaries in four Harvard Houses--Quincy, Mather, Leverett and Winthrop--protested vehemently to The Crimson that overcrowding would reach serious levels in their Houses next year as the result of the influx of unprecedented numbers of sophomores.

One House secretary, Susan Loth of Quincy, said at the time, "We just have an awful lot more bodies than beds here." She added, "They [the Dean's office] have got to do some switching around and encourage people to live off-campus."

Understanding the Harvard housing system, with its various quotas and ratios, is as difficult a chore as grasping all of the ins and outs of the Watergate scandal. But as in the case of the bugging controversy, it is most useful to start one's explanation at the top. In this case, President Bok's provisions for a 2.5 to 1 male-female ratio at Harvard. Proposed in early October 1971 and implemented with the current freshman class, the plan provided for an increase in the number of freshman women from slightly over 300 to about 450 while simultaneously reducing the incoming men from over 1200 to between 1150 and 1175. The effect of these changes would be an addition of about 300 undergraduates to the College by 1977.

This year, to accommodate the first load of 75 freshmen, half of the renovated Hotel Continental was opened to undergraduates. Next year the Continental, which is eventually to accommodate only graduate students, will be completely open to undergraduates in order to absorb the addition of another large class.

In Fall 1974 the new dormitory, being constructed on the site of Hunt Hall--to be named Canaday Hall--will accommodate about 200 students. However, if the Continental is taken over by graduate students as planned, 225--not 200--spaces will be necessary to accommodate the 150 from the Continental and the third large class. The fourth year will present even graver difficulties, with both the 25 left-over unaccounted-for students and the fourth and final addition of 75 students overcrowding the system even more.

At this point neither Dean Whitlock nor Genevieve Austin, assistant dean of Students (at Radcliffe), know where the additional 100 places will be found.

Down the Administrative ladder lies the event which has taken most of the blame for the mess, although it is probably one of the less significant instigators of the housing mess: the CHUL housing shake-up in March. At that time, Radcliffe CHUL members agreed to drop their strict insistence on maintaining a 1 to 1 sex ratio at Radcliffe and to allow a decrease--1.18 to 1-- in the number of women at the 'Cliffe. In return for that concession, the Harvard CHUL members agreed to absorb 82 spaces from Radcliffe and also to convert 100 places at Radcliffe usually held by freshmen into upperclass rooms by converting Claverly into a freshman dorm.

What this conglomeration of figures means is that next year Radcliffe will be about one-fourth freshman instead of one-third, its male-female ratio will be somewhere below 1.3 to 1 (not 1.18 to 1 as originally planned), and over-crowding in North and South Houses will be eased with the probable elimination of sophomore one-room doubles and so-called economy doubles.

Harvard, on the other hand, will be required to accommodate between 50 and 60 additional spaces (the number 82 was revised out of necessity by the Housing Office). But the "good" ratio Harvard Houses--Adams, Dunster, Lowell and Quincy--will retain their current sex ratios, and the "poor" ratio River Houses will be guaranteed at least a 4.5 to 1 ratio. Eventually, by the academic year 1975-76, the poor ratio Houses are slated to have ratios of 3 to 1.