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Like a new management team taking over a multinational corporation, Dean Fox made some startling changes in the undergraduate housing system in his first year as dean of the College. Students, caught off balance, responded with a fervor exceeding their reaction to purely political, although less close to home, issues.
Almost every alteration of the House system resolved this year originated with Fox's office, but the move that drew the most undergraduate fire--for almost all the decisions received some student protest--was the plan that bore the dean's name.
The Fox plan, which will place all freshmen Yard, move all upperclassmen out of Canaday Hall, and so end four-year Houses at the Quad next year, was one of a flock of proposals that had been floating around for years. Other proposals included plans to convert the Yard into Houses to establish uniform four-year housing, and to house all freshman in the Quad and all sophomores in the Yard (or the reverse).
When it came down to the wire this January, however, most official College groups were awed by the multimillion dollar price tag Dean Rosovsky hung on the uniform four-year housing plan, and few were drawn to the North House proposal to further integrate upperclass
Canaday entries into House life. As a result, the Committee on Houses and Undergraduate Life (CHUL), the masters and the Administrative Board all voted to support Fox's plan.
But the plan did not receive such a warm welcome from the student body as a whole. A petition circulated at the Quad in January garnered the signatures of more than 700 opponents of the plan; Quad students also protested at the CHUL meeting where Fox presented the plan for a vote, and some Quad seniors pledged to withhold contributions to the University should the plan be implemented.
Most opposition to the plan came from the Quad, where activists charged that the plan would eliminate one of the Quad's greatest attributes--freshmen.
Fox argued that his plan would actually help the Quad--rising sophomores viewed the Quad as '''different' and (potentially) inferior," he wrote, because freshmen were housed there.
On the off chance that this argument might not win many converts at Radcliffe, Fox offered as a sop a new South House dining hall, the moving of the Social Studies Department to Hilles Library and a reduction in Quad crowding with the aim of eliminating one-room doubles there. (More recently, President Horner announced she hoped to have a limited sports complex on Observatory Hill completed by Radcliffe's 1979 contennial.)
The offer pumped up some support for Fox--two Quad masters apparently agreed in January to support the Fox plan if the University would fund major improvements at the Quad. Student support of the plan, however, proved to be a little more expensive, when 40 Quad seniors pledged last month to withhold their gifts to Harvard until the University makes a genuine attempt to overhaul Quad living conditions.
The Fox plan was motivated by a desire to equalize all University housing. As part of this effort, the dean had his right hand person--Ann B. Spence, assistant dean of the College--select a River House to receive Class of '80 sophomores in the 1.5-to-1 male-to-female sex ratio that until now had been reserved for the three Quad Houses.
But Fox and Spence did not stop at trying to even up the physical plants and popular composition of the Houses. Perhaps hoping the problem was all in the mind of the beholders, they wanted to encourage undergraduates to think less about differences between the Houses.
To do this, Fox returned to the three-choice housing lottery the University used years back, before the implementation of the 12-choice system of recent times.
Fox and Spence felt the 12-choice system forced freshmen to make artificial distinction between Houses when they ranked them in preference order.
But the three-choice computer program the College instituted this spring maximized the number of freshmen sent to their first choice house. As a result, the system permitted "strategizing"--ranking Houses in other than true preference order--and freshmen rose to the challenge with the enthusiasm of gambling addicts.
One suite of Yard freshmen conducted their own survey of freshmen to ascertain relative House popularities and then simulated the housing office's lottery procedure with their own computer program in order to plan their optimum course of action.
When Fox first discussed his housing plan with CHUL, he suggested that the Union might be opened on weekends to ease over-crowding in River House dining halls then. Although he mentioned then that this move would require curtailing other services, he did not mention what he eventually decided to implement as a cost-cutter--his limited breakfast plan.
Under this proposal, Fox decided to end hot breakfasts at all Houses except Leverett, Kirkland, Quincy and Currier next year, with continental breakfasts at the other.
This plan aroused student ire as much if not more than earlier decisions did. About 165 Mather and Dunster students dubbed themselves the "Eggshell Alliance," marching on Leverett House for breakfast one morning during reading period.
In response to the student protests against the inconvenience of walking to Leverett for breakfast, and to a letter from the Mather House masters to the same effect, Fox agreed to locate the hot breakfast offering at Mather in 1978-'79 if he decides to rotate the hot meals annually.
Five House committees expressed disapproval of the limited breakfast plan, some advocating a $30 board increase to pay for breakfasts at all the Houses, but Fox held his ground.
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