An Open Letter to the House Masters

Commentary: About That Door-Drop Ban

This letter is addressed specifically to all those house masters and superintendents who have perceived a problem with the door-dropping of various materials to their houses, but I hope all of you will read it. I sympathize with the occasional little problem that affects the houses as it would affect any college dormitory at any college, and appreciate that it takes clean-up time and money. Forbidding door-delivery of free materials, however, is a drastic and unnecessary step that offers little gain for the houses involved while depriving students of ideas and information and threatening the financial viability of Harvard's advertisement-supported student publications.

I should point out that a similar door-drop battle was fought last fall in the Yard. The superintendent's office imposed a total ban on all materials not subscibed to or requested by students, saying the level of trash in the halls was too great. Student outcry against the ban persuaded the College to install baskets on all student doors to hold door-drop materials and keep them off the floor. So far this seems to be an intelligent, practical cost-effective compromise that makes superintendents and student distributors happy. Before this compromise was arrived at, however, student publications such as The Independent were forced to circumvent the new rules by offering free subscriptions to all who wanted them. While technically obeying the ban, student publications door-dropped anyway, and the litter problem went unsolved. It was far better to have the publications put in baskets than carry on the bizarre and exhausting charade of "free subscriptions." I hope we do not have to go through that again.

But we will if we have to. Door-to-door delivery is essential to our survival as an advertiser-supported student publication. We promise it and advertisers insist on it, since it is our main advantage over publications like the Square Deal. We can deliver Harvard; outsiders can't. Advertisers know that free publications must either be passed out individually by hand (like the Square Deal) or delivered to the doors of people's residences (like the Cambridge Tab) if they are to be read at all. Busy Harvard students--like most people--rarely spend the effort to pick up and take to their rooms publications that were lumped in a grubby pile, as bundles and bundles of unread Campus Calendars and Boston After Darks attest. All the major free publications on campus, including The Independent, the Perspective, the Salient, the Advocate and the Lampoon, know that door-to-door delivery is required or there is no point in publishing. Believe me, door-to-door delivery is a substantial amount of dirty, tiresome work, and no one would want to do it if they thought it unnecessary.

Forbidding free distribution also gives the paid-subscription Crimson a grossly unfair distribution advantage over the free publications, which translates into an unwarranted financial advantage. What a dull, unchallenged campus it would be if only the Crimson could deliver to students' rooms.

I would venture that the College has a special obligation to help expose students to the widest variety of opinions possible. Surely this is worth a small amount of extra clean-up per week.


And when baskets are installed on student doors, as in the Yard, the amount of extra clean-up required should be minimal indeed. If Kirkland, which forbids door-dropping even though it also has baskets on its doors, still has a trash problem, then perhaps additional remedies need to be sought.

It may be as simple as asking the resident students to be more considerate of those who clean up after them, or increasing the number of trash cans accessible to students, or encouraging PBH's newsprint recycling program (begun last year) to do their valuable work in all the houses and with greater frequency.

To fulfill its progressive mission, Perspective is morally obligated to make the effort of door-to-door distribution to all students. It can be assumed that most of the people who would take a Perspective out of a rack would already be sympathetic to our goals and ideas. For our purposes, this preaching to the converted has much less value than when less sympathetic people read a Perspective because we made the effort to bring it to their door. If we wanted merely to preach to liberals, we might as well curtail our Eliot House distribution and plow the surplus into Adams House. A similar kind of reasoning applies all the more to the conservative Salient, which can count on much less campus sympathy than Perspective. It is the people who will not normally take a Perspective from a rack that we need to reach the most. Thus, for us, door-to-door distribution is an essential, required, obligatory part of our act of publishing, for which there can be no substitute.

From an advertising and a moral standpoint, rack distribution is insufficient. This is not to say that racks are not a useful part of House furniture, but they are no substitute for door-dropping.

I was also disturbed and even insulted that the masters imposing bans on door-dropping did not consult with Perspective or any other affected publication before making their decisions. Harvard's own Handbook for Students makes it clear that the people affected by impending decisions are to be consulted beforehand. If students are to play by the rules, so must administrators.

A ban on door-dropping is not a workable solution, and is incompatible with our continued survival. Please take this to heart and reconsider the door-drop ban if this pertains to your house. I'm sure I speak for all the publications in saying that I'd rather work with house administrators than against them. We have a common goal--improving life in the College community. Let us achieve it together.

Adam R. Cohen '90 is president of The Perspective. Harvard's liberal monthly magazine.