Notes From the Faculty Room


WHEN THE LATE Ward M. Canaday '08 gave Harvard enough money to build a new dormitory several years ago, he probably had no idea that his generous gift would someday force freshmen out of the Quad Houses. But that, in effect, is what will happen, if the discussion at Wednesday's special meeting of the Committee on House and Undergraduate Life is any indication. And even if the Quad does not house only upperclassmen within a year or two, Canaday's gift will have sparked a long often rancorous debate among students, masters, and administrators about the future of the House system.

More than any other feature of Dean Fox's "Comprehensive Plan" for the Houses, its proposal to house all freshmen in the Yard, thereby eliminating freshmen from the Quad, created a furor. Most of the debate over Fox's plan centered on that recommendation, but the real reason for the support the plan received in the CHUL straw votes was not its no-freshmen-at-the-Quad provision, but its consequence of moving sophomores out of Canaday Hall.

In Fox's plan, this is genteelly referred to as "upperclass room assignments distant from the Houses;" in CHUL meetings, it is known simply as the "Canaday problem." This is the second year that sophomores have lived in the Yard, and they hate it. Almost without exception, sophomores nominally assigned to River Houses who have to live in Canaday Hall are there against their will.

As an example of the sentiment that River masters have against Canaday, take James Vorenberg '48, master of Dunster House. At the CHUL meeting Wednesday, Vorenberg decried the "clear and incontrovertible burden placed on the sophomores in Canaday," who number about 200.

For a more statistical reading of the CHUL feelings against housing sophomores in Canaday, just look at the results of the straw votes the committee took on Wednesday. CHUL members were asked to rank their preferences among six alternative housing plans. Fifteen CHUL members listed immediate implementation of the Fox plan as their first choice; 13 said their first choice was implementation of the Fox plan in 1978-79. Only five members listed the North House plan, allowing freshmen to stay at the Quad Houses to retain freshmen, as a first choice, and two members said their preference was a plan to use most of Canaday to establish "special interests" entries--for students who wanted to speak a foreign language, or live in a Economics entry, for example.


It's clear, then, that the River Houses have the votes to pass the Fox proposal in some form. Those votes make it plain that Canaday is indeed the real problem, and that the freshmen at the Quad are a mere casualty in the battle. It appears once again that the Quad is being sacrificed for the River.

When benefactor Canaday told Harvard he would like to give them a dorm, he was reportedly told that the University would like to build it at the Quad, because that's where attractive new housing was most needed. Canaday, however, wanted his hall in the Yard, where he had gone to college, and not way the hell up Garden Street. Canaday's love for the Yard, while heart-warming, must now be viewed as more than a little unfortunate, because events have conspired to make his dorm the agent that will cause the end of four-year housing at the Quad.

THERE IS MORE than a little irony in this year's CHUL discussions and straw votes. Last year, I covered the CHUL housing debates through December, January, and February. Then, the committee discussed essentially the same issues, (four-year or three-year Houses, uniformity in the system, sex ratios, and methods of House assignments), and held a similar series of straw votes on the various options. It also faced the same problem of changeover in student membership from January to February.

My editor asked me, on the basis of my coverage of the CHUL meetings, to write a long feature on the housing issue to appear during the first week of the second semester. After explaining the various alternatives and positions, I made a prediction: that CHUL would vote for a uniform system of three-year Houses, and would make certain adjustments in the sex ratio of the Quad Houses. My editor, older and bureaucratically wiser, advised me last February that committees like CHUL generally find adequate solace in the status quo, and end up voting for it. As it turned out, he was right and I was wrong. CHUL voted to retain four-class housing at the Quad.

Now it appears that my prediction may just have been a year ahead of the CHUL. The Wednesday votes indicate that times, at least for the CHUL that is about to go out of business, have changed. There is no longer any real support for the present system, and four-class housing appears doomed.

The present housing system was included as an option in the straw votes, but nobody spoke in favor of it in the time allotted on the agenda, and no one voted for either the status quo, or the status quo "pending further study" as a first choice. Dean Rosovsky saw this agreement that there must be some changes made as encouraging. There was little else at the meeting from which to draw encouragement, or even a smile, unless it was Rosovsky's own one-liners.

THE REAL difference in this year's CHUL is the presence of Rosovsky, Fox, and Anne B. Spence, Fox's new assistant dean of the College. The team of Rosovsky, Fox and Spence provides a great contrast to last year's trio of Francis M. Pipkin, assistant dean of the Faculty for the Colleges, Charles P. Whitlock, now associate dean of the Faculty for the Task Forces and then dean of the College, and Bruce Collier, now an assistant to the dean of the Faculty and formerly assistant dean of the College.

Rosovsky, who replaced Pipkin as the CHUL chairman, runs the meetings with a strong hand, and on Wednesday strictly enforced time limits to the point of reprimanding speakers for talking too long about issues previously discussed. Whitlock was clearly growing tired of the housing debate last year, and his replacement Fox came forward with a definite plan that probably will carry the day. And Collier, a computer expert who annually bore the bad news of the housing lottery, is no longer available for the committee to kick around. Spence, his replacement, is now talking about an assignment system that would ask students to name only three choices; that also appears to have support on the CHUL.

BUT ROSOVSKY is still the key. He says that he takes no positions, and merely listens to the debates, but the debaters must always realize that the final decision rests with him. Their straw votes, even their final recommendations, mean nothing if he decides on a different course. His presence adds some weight and importance to the proceedings, but the committee's function remains advisory rather than legislative.

Rosovsky at least brings a sense of humor to the meetings. While Fox officially calls his proposal "The Comprehensive Plan," and describes it as "responsible," "constructive" and the best for "the overall health of the system" in almost ponderous tones, Rosovsky sits jiggling his gavel. When asked whether Spence's list of suggested improvements can be implemented by next fall, Rosovsky answered by saying, "How long does it take to open a pizza shop?" When a student referred to an anti-Fox leaflet, Rosovsky, rather like a connoisseur of protest literature, asked cheerfully, "Is there a leaflet? Can I see it?" And finally, when two students affirmed the obvious by saying they were not administrators, Rosovsky said, "I think you guys are well on your way to administrative jobs."

At the opening of Wednesday's meeting, Rosovsky told the CHUL that he will not rush to decision on the housing system; that he has no particular time schedule. He will chair the Faculty's discussion of the housing system--on February 15, probably with the same gavel, Sherlock Holmes pipe and good humor that he employed at the CHUL meeting. The decisions are ultimately his. Making a prediction here would resemble nothing so much as a dancing upon an already cracking limb. But a brief word of advice: freshmen shouldn't plan on enjoying Canaday's generosity next year, nor should applicants to the class of '81 waste any time deciding whether they want to live in the Quad.

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