Trying to Regain 'Civility'

Bok and Epps Turn Their Attention to the Houses

In the world of big-time University administrators, undergraduate affairs often get short shrift. But during the last two weeks, several of Harvard's top officials have taken an unusual interest in student life.

Appearing before the House masters last week for the first time in more than a year, President Bok surprised some and pleased most by focusing on lapses in student behavior in the Houses and by suggesting that masters act to restore some lost civility.

As particular concerns, Bok identified racial tension, intolerance toward gay students, carelessness towards others' property and disrespect for neighbors. He did not single out any House or recommend specific remedies.

Afterwards, several masters praised Bok for expressing interest in undergraduate life and suggested that, after ten years of focusing on fund-raising and bureaucratic issues, the president has turned his attention to undergraduates.

Lapses in student "civility" may have been called to Bok's attention by an article this summer in Esquire magazine that cited instances of inconsiderate behavior among the student body here, several officials said.


Acting on Bok's advice, at least one master reportedly addressed his House committee on problems of behavior in the House. Masters say they expect the issue of how to deal with incidents in House dining halls and elsewhere to crop up throughout the year and almost certainly at a subsequent meeting of the masters.

At about the same time that Bok was evincing his new-found interest, Archie C. Epps III, dean of students, was sending the masters a memorandum listing College regulations on serving alcohol at House parties.

That note included no new regulations, but several masters said they interpreted it as advice to crack down on drinking at parties. Though Epps said he is aware of only one violation of regulations forbidding liquor at parties which students from outside the College attend, some House officials said they believe violations are more frequent.

At least one master also received a cover letter with his memo, stressing that serving or sale of alcohol is forbidden at public events.

House masters currently serve alcohol at some events closed to Harvard students because they are considered to be surrogate parents.

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