North House Masters J. Woodland and Hanna Hastings recall what they say was a very typical slight of the Quad and their House which occured just before Commencement last June.
Just a few days before the graduation ceremony, the Hastings received the North House programs for the afternoon festivities which take place in the respective Houses. On the back of the program was a map of Harvard which extended north just about to Walker St.--completely omitting the Quad.
The omission evoked a swift response from the Hastings, who immediately called Quincy House Master David A. Aloian '49, executive director of the Harvard Alumni Association. And before the seniors and their families took their seats on June 10, They were redone. They reprinted the whole thing," says professor Hastings.
Quad Masters and other College officials say being left off maps is just one of the ways which the Quad has been the embattled, weak sister of the House system since the Radcliffe merger of 1972 which incorporated the dorms four blocks past the Cambridge Common into a College-wide coeducational living system. The Quad barely receives mention in Harvard's official literature, tours never straggle up Garden St., and relatively few College activities gravitate any farther north than the Science Center.
The overwhelming emphasis on upperclass living at the River Houses subtly manifests itself in maps and pamphlets and is reflected annually when freshmen attempt to flock to the River in the housing lottery in which a Quad assignment is usually a booby prize. "There are a lot of little things that add up" to contribute to the maligned reputation of the Quad as a desolate, far-off place, according to Currier House Master Dudley R. Hershbach. And these are what cause occasionally ferocious actions like that which prompted the immediate revision of Commencement programs last June.
In addition to attempts like the Hastings' at combatting the publicity problem, the College has officially scrutinized the question of House equality twice: once in 1977 in a project which resulted in the current College-wide, three-year House system, and also now, in an on-going review of the 1977 plan which will by January produce an assessment of the progress made in the last five years. The current review of the Comprehensive Plan from 1977 is taking place in an atmosphere far less angry than the one under which the changes were made, largely because the changes made because of the plan have been well-received. But the question of disparities in the quality of House life remains, and further changes are likely to be proposed before January exams.
The fierce reaction to the plan proposed by then-first year Dean of the College John B. Fox '59 in retrospect seems to be appropriate for campus newspaper parodies. Widely circulated petitions and vocal demonstrations by Quad residents aimed to quash Fox's plan--formally known as the Comprehensive Plan--to change from the system which housed some freshmen in the Quad, and placed more than 100 sophomores affiliated with River Houses in entries in Canaday Hall.
Fox now demurely describes "a very intense discussion" in the spring of 1977 surrounding his proposal to have all three-year Houses and a unified freshmen year. But others candidly recall 1977 being a trial-by-fire first year for Fox, who not only proposed the controversial restructuring of College living arrangements, but also ordered a curtailment of hot breakfasts in the Houses, a decision he subsequently reversed.
The Hastings, who were just settling into their first year as North House masters, readily admit that they vigorously fought Fox's plan, which despite tremendous Quad outcry met little opposition in gaining administrative approval. "People liked very much the idea that the Quad was different" with its four-year living arrangements, says Mrs. Hastings. Amid all the disparities between the Quad and the River particularly in the first post-merger years, the unity of four-year housing apparently was a source of pride for residents relegated to the Quad. The Hastings had no strong personal feelings about the switch--in fact, they say, the switch has made their job easier because they do not have to incorporate freshmen, who usually left for another House via the lottery in the spring. "But that was our constituency--and we were representing them," recalls Woodland Hastings.
The swift approval and adoption of the Comprehensive Plan (released in January and put into effect by September) could be seen as yet another slap in the face for Quad residents, their wishes and concerns disregarded. But there seems to be a consensus that the plan has worked out well. "Even though there was great hue and cry at times, the judgement is that it was definitely a good thing to do," says Hershbach. Unification of freshmen in the Yard and nearby Union dorms seems to offer at least one common Harvard experience for undergraduates, officials agree. Hanna Hastings recalls that freshmen assigned to the Quad and then reassigned to a Quad House as upperclassmen because of bad luck in the lottery "really felt that they were given a bum rap."
The widespread belief that the comprehensive plan has been effective has nevertheless not deterred the ongoing review of the changes, which was intended to occur after five years. Part of the reason for the review by a five-master committee headed by South House Associate Master Anne M. Wacker is a "technical obligation" to review the plan as intended after five years, according to Fox. But Fox, who has charged the committee with no particular directive, says the broad objective of the Comprehensive Plan was to create "more or less the same social and educational environment in the Houses. "Recognizing the geographical drawbacks of the Quad. Fox is asking the committee "are there things that still need to be done?"
The apparent answer, which Wacker says will come via a report by the end of the term, is a resounding "yes." Committee members--the Quad masters plus Mather House Masters David and Patricia Herlihy and Eliot House Master Alan E. Heimert '49--hedge somewhat in discussing specifics. Says Hershbach: "I don't want to steal all the thunder." Nevertheless, the masters are making clear they see the need for further substantive improvements in Quad living. These will probably include a revision of House assignment formulas which severely affect the Quad's crowding situation (see accompanying story), and a call for major construction at the Quad to create more dorm rooms and perhaps a large North House dining hall.
Compounding the agony many freshmen have felt about getting Quad assignments has been subsequent room assignment in a converted lounge or ironing closet. Woodland Hastings sees a need for "about 100 additional rooms" at the Quad to eliminate the aggravation which makes the Quad even less acceptable to a certain number of sophomores each year. The 1977 Comprehensive Plan built a $400,000 dining hall for South House to make it a House with facilities comparable to all others, and committee members are saying that similar work is now needed elsewhere. Says Heimert: "The most important need is a single dining hall for North House (which now has two small ones) and additional rooms."
In addition to the substantive recommendations for easing the crowding situation and additional construction, the committee may recommend a laundry list of smaller items aimed at better integrating the Quad into College life. The Social Studies Department occupies space in Hilles Library as a result of the first Comprehensive plan, and other offices recently moved to the Quad; masters are calling for further moves along this line. Hastings's pet project is the creation of a bike path to the Quad; "It would make a difference." And Hershbach wouldn't mind a swimming pool, "but I don't know if we're going to propose it."
The general sentiment seems to be that an intense capital investment in the Quad in the near future would work wonders. And the committee may have some leverage in asking for construction work because of the College's current $50 million renovation of the aging Houses which will barely affect the Quad. "There's an opportunity to do something that would make a big difference in life here," Woodland Hastings says directly.
Fox is choosing to remain mute regarding what should possibly be done to update his plan. "My job is to shut up and hear what the committe says," he explains. "The worst thing is to get involved in the deliberations of the committee before they're through with their report."
But while the College administration is selecting a pointedly low profile on the subject, another voice has been noticeably and mysteriously silent--that of the students. Wacker discussed the Comprehensive Plan at a meeting of the now-defunct Committee on Houses and Undergraduate Life last spring. But despite her solicitation of student opinion, there were no interested participants. Although the lack of interest may be indicative of the broad satisfaction with the House system, it probably was more a sign of a crumbling student government on its last legs. The new student-faculty Committee on Housing--part of the new and more popular Undergraduate Council--will convene this month, and will undoubtedly discuss it.
One issue of particular concern to masters--the need for more Quad publicity for freshmen--is an area in particular need of student input. North House Committee Chairman James Polsfut '83 says a modification of Yale University's four-year colleges might be appropriate. Instead of assigning freshmen to a House for their upperclass years like at Yale. Polsfut suggests giving freshmen temporary House assignments at various intervals during the first year. By attending functions at their temporary House, freshmen can familiarize themselves with the Houses, and South House Committee Chairman Scott Goidel '83 says, "Freshmen can maybe find out that the Quad's not that far I think they are often surprised when they actually take the walk."
It seems assured that any suggestion put forth by those reviewing the Comprehensive Plan will seem mild in comparison to the outcry which Fox generated five years ago with a proposal which people now seem to agree entirely made sense. But it also seems clear that the results of the study will not be a totally equal, and equally popular House system. Geographical and architectural barriers aside, some officials regard the diversity in living as one of Harvard's strengths. "I get very nervous when everybody wants to equalize the Houses, because I want to know what equalize means. I can't think of anything more boring." President Horner says. "This notion of sameness across the board. . . You can't make Currier House into Eliot House."