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A House of Your Choice


By Roger M. Klein

THE HOUSE transfer applications that will become available Friday are part of a radically changed transfer system--a system that will streamline the old process, which one master called a "fifth course" for transfer applicants, but will also open the way for admissions to Houses based on masters' choice and student personality.

Because Dean Fox's plan to house all freshmen in the Yard takes effect this year, fewer transfers altogether can be expected. Since a class "seniority principle" will determine who can transfer, few if any sophomores will change Houses this fall.

The code words for the new transfer process are decentralization and mechanization. For the first time since "master's choice"--a system now replaced by the lottery where each master decided who could enter his House--guided the housing system years ago, masters will have the primary responsibility for deciding who will live in their Houses. And in a switch from the days when Eleanor Marshall, former assistant to the deans of the College for housing, personally and unsystematically handled all transfers, applicants will submit their forms simultaneously at the beginning of each semester, learn of their fate two weeks later, and make their moves in the following week--before the end of October.

Ann B. Spence, assistant dean of the College and the architect of the new process, designed the new system to eliminate some of the faults many found in the old one. Last year, the transfer process was a never-ending battle: students plagued Marshall with weekly questions about their status, lobbied her with calls from alumni parents, and waited anxiously for the phone call that signaled their exodus. Some students had to move during reading period or in the midst of finals.

Marshall proved unable to keep up with the tidal wave of applications; 446 students applied to transfer throughout the year, and 274 were successful, including one-to-one "room swap" transfers. Complex regulations, based on seniority and the position in which a transfer applicant placed his or her present House in his or her original ranking for the housing lottery, guided Marshall. But because applications dribbled in all year long, and because of Marshall's loose processing technique, many transfers that could have been completed went undiscovered.

The process placed a heavy burden on Marshall, who, after the elimination of her position, took another administrative position in the University.

"Several hundred people were all asked to go to one point in the University," Spence said Monday. "It was a bottleneck. There was a seasonal pressure so there were times during the year when there were many, many people to see her."

Spence should know. Originally Marshall's superior, this year Spence will directly oversee the transfer process. Although the Housing Office will no longer function as a central depository for transfer applications, it will provide information and advice to students considering a change of Houses. While Spence will not require masters to submit reports demonstrating their compliance with the ground rules of transferring, she met with House secretaries during the summer to explain the guidelines for the selection process. In addition, Spence will do the last minute tinkering with the guidelines as final figures on the numbers of residents in each House trickle in.

TRANSFERRING under the new system will be somewhat like applying to colleges. Like the high school student, the potential transferee must first obtain a standardized application from the Housing Office. Besides basic biographical data, they will ask for a student's concentration and which Houses the student has applied to, ranking them in order of preference. The applications also include a space for optional information. The forms do not spell out what data belongs in this spot, but it will undoubtedly be useful in the masters' choice stage of the transfer process, to be discussed later.

Students then deliver a copy of the application to the office of each House to which they have applied. At this point, each House chooses the applicants who will enter the House, based on the guidelines developed by Spence, in order of dominance:

1) The seniority principle. Seniors have priority over juniors, juniors over sophomores.

2) The equity principle. Students who have not transferred before will receive priority over those who have.

3) The grandfather clause. Students who applied to transfer last year will receive priority over those who did not. For example, a senior who has not applied to transfer before will receive priority over a junior who tried last year. A junior who transferred last year will still be allowed to enter a House before a sophomore who never transferred.

At this point Spence's guidelines stop. If applicants cannot be distinguished on these grounds, the Houses may choose freely among them. Like certain colleges, some Houses will require interviews with transferees.

William H. Bossert '59, master of Lowell House, plans to require all applicants to schedule an interview with someone on the House staff. Based on information the applicant supplies in the interview, he then plans to admit those applicants who want to enter Lowell for a special reason--as distinguished from those who merely want to leave the Quad and enter any River House. Bossert may also give preference to those who want close contact with a certain tutor in Lowell and those who come from especially crowded Houses.

THIS STAGE of the process, in which masters will freely choose among applicants, resembles the master's choice system used by the College several years ago to assign students to Houses after freshman year. Under master's choice, a fraction of the Houses' population was filled by the master. This system drew criticism by some as tending to homogenize the residents of individual Houses and even excluding certain students from some Houses. Critics find similar faults with the new transfer process. "It means a kind of battle to please the master. I don't imagine this change will make it any easier to make the transfer process fair." John W. Hastings, master of North House, said Monday. Possibly to avoid this type of competition, some masters have decided to choose randomly among applicants similar to one another under Spence's criteria. To make selection easier. Spence will provide each transfer applicant with a random number.

The crux of the system consists of Spence's proclamation that the resident population of a House may not fall below 87 per cent of the number of students assigned to it during the housing lottery. Spence may change this figure slightly when final data on the number of students who take leaves of absence become available. But regardless of the number she eventually chooses, in effect the floor or House populations will provide a limit on the number of people who can leave the Quad.

The 87 per cent floor assumes the average College-wide attrition rate--the fraction of students who do not return this year--will be eight per cent. For the average House, the 13 per cent transfer limit means that only five per cent of those living in the Houses at the start of the semester may leave without being replaced by incoming transfers. Individual houses vary widely around the eight per cent attrition average, however; Kirkland has had only a four per cent attrition rate, leaving it with serious overcrowding.

On the flip side, Spence will require a House to accept transfers only when the current House population falls below the 87 per cent floor. Thus Mather, with its ten per cent attrition rate, need not accept any one-way transfers this fall. A master might decide to accept transfers beyond the required minimum, possibly to alter the class balance within the House, to help out an overcrowded House or for other reasons.

ACCURATE FORECASTS of how many students will be able to leave the Quad are as rare as an uncrowded River suite. But the outlines of the situation suggest that leaving the Quad will be harder to do this year than in the past. As part of the Fox plan's conscious effort to make the Quad more desirable, the Housing Office switched 45 upperclass Quad residents to the River--five to each House. In doing so. University Hall aimed to reduce Quad density to the point where no Quad rooms would be doubles, as some had been in past years. Because Quad Houses are close to their 13 per cent transfer limit, and since many River Houses already suffer from over-crowding, transfers out of the Quad may well be very few and far between.

Nor will the transfer limit prevent extremes in under- and over-crowding. Mather House lost ten per cent of its assigned population to attrition--more than the eight per cent level Spence assumed it would lose. Yet 31 suites in Mather remain overcrowded.

The new transfer process should reduce the confusion that surrounded last year's system. The process will be much more mechanical, yet strategizing will still be possible. Since a transfer applicant stands a better chance of getting into a given House if he or she ranked that House at the top of the preference list, a student could improve his or her chances by finding out which Houses are less crowded and ranking them first.

But the process almost certainly will not involve strategizing of the type transfer applicants used last year. An incident typical of that strategizing occurred when one South House sophomore became desperate and took extreme measures. He sent Marshall a bunch of roses, accompanied by a card inscribed: "The roses, like we South House students, will wilt if placed far "from water." The student transferred to the River shortly thereafter.

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