Yours, Mine, Ours: The Property Problem

One of the terms of the 1971 non-merger merger agreement that had a significant effect on undergraduate life was the absorption of the Radcliffe Houses into the Harvard House system. Harvard men have since come to outnumber women in the three Radcliffe Houses, and Radcliffe women have dispersed throughout the Yard and all of the Harvard Houses. And Harvard now foots the bill for the operating expenses of the whole House system.

Yet, even though all of the houses fall under the jurisdiction and administration of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the terms "Radcliffe Houses" and "Harvard Houses" remain more than mere geographic distinctions--Radcliffe still continues to own all its buildings and land. As of June 30, 1973, Radcliffe owned a total of $26,935,539 in land and buildings, and much of it happens to be some of the prime real estate in Cambridge. In addition to the land and buildings of Radcliffe Yard and the Quad area, Radcliffe owns a number of wooden frame houses and several apartment complexes in the general Radcliffe area and some other scattered properties.

On a day-to-day basis it matters very little to undergraduates who owns the buildings they reside in; the technicality of ownership places no burdens or restraints upon them. But the purely physical elements have already played and will continue to play a significant background role in the re-evaluation of the Harvard-Radcliffe relationship. Harvard can not help feeling attracted to Radcliffe's property and all the rest of its $57,461,341 in total assets. Radcliffe, on the other hand, is cautiously trying to impress upon Harvard that her assets include some things in which Harvard has little interest--but nonetheless to which it must be committed if a complete merger is ever to be realized.

But even more important for current undergraduate life, the problems posed by Radcliffe's ownership and Harvard's administration of the Quadrangle Houses have become more apparent in the years since the non-merger merger was negotiated. From the outset the two older Quad Houses--North and South--have been physically inferior to those at the River. This is a problem that can only be solved by additional construction or large-scale renovation. But when Harvard took over the administration of the Radcliffe Houses, it was assumed that the distribution of furnishings provided to Harvard undergraduates would be equalized. The fact is that students living in Radcliffe Houses--with the exception of Currier--are not as well cared for by Harvard as their counterparts in the Harvard Houses. North and South Houses still do not give pillows to everyone, very few rooms have any overhead or portable lighting, many of the bathrooms are in very poor shape, and other facilities are inadequate. Administrators will not offer any explanations for this, but it undoubtedly comes back to the questions of ownership and jurisdiction.

Harvard has been extremely frugal in its dispersal of money for improvements in buildings it does not own, and Radcliffe has neither the money nor the obligation to foot the bill itself. Radcliffe also is at least a little proud and wants to maintain an appearance of limited control over her Houses.


The problems of approval and finance of renovation in the older Radcliffe Houses were exemplified last month when Richard G. Leahy, associate dean for resources and development, committed Faculty money for relatively minor renovations in South Houses over the summer. A week later the Radcliffe Board of Trustees found out about the plan. At present they must approve all construction projects on their properties, regardless of who is funding the operation. Even though they did grant approval at their next meeting, the signs of underlying strains of an owner not controlling the purse strings were apparent. Had the board decided not to approve the project, and had neither Leahy nor the Trustees backed off, a jurisdictional dispute digging right to the heart of the present agreements could have ensued.

To Harvard's credit, there has been an effort made recently to attract big money for building at Radcliffe. In fact, Dr. Chase N. Peterson '52, vice president for alumni affairs and development, and President Bok gave Ward M. Canaday '07 a personal guided tour around Radcliffe last year before he decided that his money for construction belonged in the Yard. The plans that were circulated for massive building on the eastern side of the Radcliffe Quad are still posted in the basement of South House's Cabot Hall. Undergraduates may see the Radcliffe dormitory area and the River Houses as part of one campus; donors for construction projects generally do not.

The Radcliffe Board of Trustees has expressed concern this year for the discrepancies which now exist between the facilities offered to undergraduates in the River Houses and the Quad Houses. Susan S. Lyman, president of the Board, said last week that one of the priorities the Trustees are now setting concerns the problems of the Radcliffe Houses and their position in the Harvard housing system. "There is a general assumption now that the Radcliffe Houses are getting less," Lyman said. "If there is a discrepancy between Harvard and Radcliffe Houses we want to do something about it. That has to be a priority in merger talks because it affects undergraduates and their education and life in the University community."

Radcliffe now owns a number of apartment buildings and frame houses in the Walker and Linnean St. area. Some of the frame houses currently house students and staff, but several are rented out to tenants. As a result of the growing squeeze on undergraduate housing, officials of both Harvard and Radcliffe have considered using some of the apartment space for student housing. Students currently reside in Wolbach Hall, which Radcliffe purchased in the early 1960s and in the Hotel Continental, which Harvard purchased several years ago. There is enough room space available to alleviate the housing crunch at no extra building expense to the University. Lyman acknowledges that such a proposal has been discussed, but both Harvard and Radcliffe officials are reluctant to indicate what factors prevent its implementation or whether they favor such a plan. It is clear, however, that Radcliffe would be sacrificing valuable bargaining power for future merger talks by allowing the buildings to be used for students and to thus come under Harvard's control.

One of Radcliffe's biggest concerns in the merger talks is just what Harvard would do with the real estate in the event of complete merger. Full merger would probably mean eventual equality for the Radcliffe Houses, but Radcliffe officials fear that those parts of Radcliffe which now serve mostly women would be ignored. "We are forced to ask the question: if Radcliffe is absorbed, what would come then? We have some assets that Harvard is not particularly interested in. Who would watch out for the welfare of the Schlesinger Library and the Radcliffe Institute? I just can't imagine Harvard ever taking responsibility for these units," Lyman says.

Aside from her financial assets approaching $60 million, Radcliffe has something else she is equally as hesitant to give up, but more resigned to losing, as an inevitable victim of merger--her identity. "There is a great concern about Radcliffe identity. I don't think anybody wants sub-merger or absorption. But we know that Harvard would never even consider a name like Harvard-Radcliffe for the University. We can't be non-realistic in any discussions we have. There just isn't even any reason to bring that up; it will always be just Harvard University," Lyman said.