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The Spring Ahead

By Gilbert Fuchsberg

Predicting the news, like predicting the weather, is always on uncertain task. The Crimson makes no promise, therefore, that the following Spring 1985 preview of College issues and the Undergraduate Council is either all-inclusive or comprehensive. It may be useful, though, as a guide to some of the headline events and issues of the months ahead.

Tomorrow, a look at what's happening this semester in sports, the Faculty, the University and beyond.

Housing Lottery

Which would you prefer: To maintain the preference-based system of assigning freshmen to the Houses, or switch to a more random method? That's the question you'll be asked next week in a campus-wide referendum on the freshman housing lottery, perennially a source of anxiety and frustration for students and officials alike.

At issue is the controversial matter of diversity. Should athletes continue to dominate Kirkland, as demographic studies have shown, while Eliot is virtually devoid of black students? What happens when students in one House have distinctly higher grades, on average, than residents of another?

Concerned that the Houses have fallen short of the ideal of representing a "microcosm" of the College as a whole. Harvard officials have been mulling over the diversity issue for several years now. They'd like to increase equality of representation across the Houses, but acknowledge that achieving such a goal will force a decrease in the weight given to student choice. Fearful of widespread discontent, University Hall deans have been reluctant to move ahead without some sense of what students want.

The Undergraduate Council's referendum on the housing lottery, to be conducted in dining halls next Wednesday through Friday, should gauge for the first time how strongly students feel about the background of their upperclass neighbors. Though the vote is nonbindinding on the College, official have said they will follow the results "with interest."

Even if students vote to maintain the status quo, council delegates say, this spring should see at least minor changes in the way the lottery is run. Those proposals, outlined in a council report compiled in the fall, would aim to "demystify" the lottery's computer program and increase the information about the Houses made available to Yardlings.

Quad Renovations

After three years in which residents of the River Houses have seen their walls painted, toilets replaced and light sockets rewired, this was supposed to be the year when Quad students finally got theirs. And finally, it appears, they will, though the going may be slower than some would hope.

The problem, officials say, is that the kind of renovations needed to bring Cabot and North Houses into the modern era are more extensive than those required at the River. More than just refurbishing the structures, the planned Quad renovations would rework the physical interiors of the old Radcliffe dorms.

So when officials first unveiled Quad renovation plans this fall, it looked like Cabot and North Houses would receive the kind of changes long promised by College officials. Plans include new dining halls, vertical entries instead of hallways, more suites than singles, and increased common space for both Houses. But with only about half of the needed $27 million in hand, officials cautioned that the project--scheduled for completion over several years--might have to be curtailed.

As of now, officials decline to commit themselves to anything beyond a reworking of Cabot's dilapidated structure, beginning with Briggs Hall this summer. Before authorizing a new set of dining halls and a major overhaul of North. Harvard wants more time to pump the hands of potential donors, who could ease the way towards a more attractive Quad. But thus far, officials say, there's been no response to Harvard's fundraising overtures, which reportedly includes an offer to rename North in exchange for a cool $5 million.

What prospect, then, do Quad students have that their homes will ever match the physical splendor enjoyed by River residents? College officials in the know say they sincerely want to translate months of architectural planning into a transformed Quad. Residents there, citing years of perceived neglect by College officials, are still waiting to see the bulldozers. Harvard fundraisers may hold the key this spring to how quickly renovations start.

Crowding and Nonresidents

When Mather House residents arrived for classes this year, they found their quarters more than cramped. Some sophomores for example, were so squeezed that they were forced to bunk in storage closets. Wanting to prevent a similar situation from recurring, the College will try again this spring to change the way they allocate housing space.

An annual focus of attention among housing officials, the allocation formula is based on a tricky combination of past trends, current space, and guesswork. The latter, not surprisingly, is the hardest part, basically a prediction of how many students in a particular House will decide to take a leave the following year. When those doing the guessing miss the mark--even by a small number--the already crowded Houses suffer. A few years ago, North House got squeezed. This year, Mather got crunched.

While redistributing the crowding throughout the system should ease Mather's burden, officials say the crowding problems will continue unless the total number of students housed on campus is cut. Without really saying so, officials hope to achieve that goal with a new plan to address several related issues--the needs of transfer students, the status of Dudley House, and the desires of off-campus students for adequate advising and other services.

Among other things, the complex proposal would seek to make off-campus life more palatable for every undergraduate not choosing to live in one of the 12 residential Houses. For transfer students, traditionally left "floating" on arrival because they can't immediately move into a House, the University may block off a set of its area apartments as a mini House community, complete with resident tutors.

Most of all, officials hope that a stronger Dudley House, the key to the plan, will allay the fears of current House residents considering moving to a Cambridge apartment. Bolstering Dudley may mean, at least, forcing more students who move off campus to shift their affiliation to Dudley, rather than stick with their original House.

Critics of the changes, scheduled for final review soon, cite the failure of extensive efforts two years ago to solve a set of housing problems strikingly similar to those now on the table.

Student-Faculty Contact

One of the longest-standing sources of criticism about Harvard is the perceived gap between undergraduates and faculty members. The complaint lack of "contact." Whether such a gap actually exists, what its nature may be, and how to bridge it are matters slated for continued discussion within the College this spring.

Following on the heels of a recent report documenting cases of student reluctance to initiate contact with faculty--be it through office hours, informal chats or even meals--officials this year took several steps to remedy the situation. One move was starting a program providing free tickets to students wishing to invite a faculty member to dinner, chez Harvard Food Services. If as a byproduct, officials believed, more faculty members became acquainted with students and the Houses, then perhaps the anxiety-gap could be narrowed.

As it turns out, officials say, response to the availability of tickets has been positive, though exact numbers are unavailable. Whether the plan has had its intended effect is another matter, one that may be answered in the results to yet another survey. The College will take a look this spring at a random sampling of undergraduates and faculty conducted during the fall, aimed at determining why both groups seem, on average, cold to the idea of initiating contact. The poll may provide a statistical base for more efforts along the line of the meal-ticket program, or other, more substantive changes to increase and improve the quality of contact between students and faculty.

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