LAST YEAR, when the Quincy House Committee made a $1500 windfall profit on spring ball tickets, it celebrated by renting a giant moonwalk palace and letting residents bounce around for a fun filled day.
Most houses, though, couldn't even dream of such a luxury. Indeed, when Kirkland House Committee sold its washers and dryers last year--Kirkland was the only house not renting laundry equipment--the committee husbanded most of the proceeds into a certificate of deposit.
Perhaps the difference in attitudes lies in the fact that Quincy has a $12,000 budget and Kirkland has a $3000 budget. The discrepancies among the 13 house budgets are as great as the differences in house reputations. At the top are Currier, Eliot and Quincy. At the bottom, Dudley, Kirkland and Lowell.
HOUSE BUDGETS aren't just a matter of bragging rights for committee chairmen, though. The house bank account profoundly affects the quality of house life--from the number of parties a house throws, to whether a house has a wide screen TV or an active drama society with more than one production and a makeshift set, or an intramural hockey team with enough equipment, or elaborate spring formals.
"The level of activity is obviously related to the resources at the house," says Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III. Agrees Currier House Committee Chairman Deborah Ramirez '86, whose house has $12,000 a year to throw frequent parties, "The revenues we get reflect positively on the quality of house life here."
The three other universities which have residential house systems don't face these problems. Princeton, Yale and Rice University in Houston have standardized the funding systems for their residential colleges. Yale jumped on the bandwagon this year, abandoning the old system where each college raised its own money in favor of funding all colleges equally by allocating $20 for each student from the university's general fund.
But house committee chairmen and treasurers at Harvard are dependent on some very precarious, unpredictable financial sources. Collecting house dues is chancy. While Eliot House gets about an 80 percent return on dues collection, at other houses, like North, more than a third of students haven't paid up. Lowell and Kirkland just implemented a house dues system and don't know whether they can rely on students to pay up.
Other houses don't have dues at all, relying instead on washing machine revenues for their money. If students feel like being abnormally dirty one month, house revenues suffer.
But while everyone is uncertain where their money is coming from, they at least have a ballpark number. Some chairmen feel poor and worry whether their next party is going to cost so much it will break them for the rest of the year.
"In planning our next mixer, we can lose most of what we have in paying for a deejay, police and lighting and decoration," says Steven A. Colarossi '86, Dudley House committee chairman.
Agrees North House Committee Chairman James A. Messina '86, who works with a $7,500 budget, "We can't take big risks. We have to be sure people are going to come to anything we organize, and it can't be that big. If we had a party on the Quad and it rained, we could lose everything we have."
Indeed, while throwing house parties is one of the more obvious things a house committee can do, encouraging an active film or music society, buying equipment like pool tables or VCRs, or throwing more exotic theme parties is beyond the reach of many house committees.
"Sometimes I think it does inhibit us from taking a risk. If we loose $500 on a dance it's a big deal," says Leverett House Committee Chairman Carolyn M. Martin '86.
But at Currier House, with $12,000 to play with, "we have more leeway for student's creativity," says Ramirez.
IN ADDITION TO ability to encouraging house creativity, large budgets enable houses to throw extravagant parties on a scale that most Harvard students couldn't imagine--like Quincy's moon-walk palace, Eliot's opulent Spring Fete, and Currier's seemingly endless string of massive parties. Those bigger budgets make possible those little extra things--like live bands, rock videos, raffles for plane tickets to the Bahamas--and it keeps committees from worrying about running out of alcohol.