The food's gotten better. The new dorm looks like a luxury hotel. The new president is having folks over for a BBQ. Is Harvard finally starting to care about its students?
At Harvard, where change usually comes at a glacial pace, the administration this year began taking a few small steps to increase student satisfaction--small steps that seem to be getting big results.
Sure, the problems persist. The campus is still a dangerous place, the Adams House pool is still closed for "renovations" and those little career books from OCS suddenly started costing big bucks.
But all that seems somehow less significant when the president, having missed a tea for first-year students, apologizes profusely and promises to hold a make-up barbeque before a football game. Insignificant, when that very same president handwrites a note to the Crimson writer who chronicled his absence, telling the reporter to call him at home in any similar situations.
Taken one at a time, small gestures can be dismissed as trivial. But taken together, these little things may mean a lot to the students who benefit. At least in some quarters, students are getting noticed.
Teas in Our Time
The first indication of change came over the summer, when Acting Dean of Freshmen Virginia L. Mackay-Smith '78 announced she was resuming the practice of inviting first-year students to the dean's official residence for tea. Dean of Freshmen Henry C. Moses had discontinued the teas last year.
The next indication of a student-friendly Harvard was when the posh DeWolfe St. housing complex opened. In the recent past, designers of new dormitories (Canaday Hall, Mather House) seemed to have one primary objective: making the buildings riot-proof. But when the DeWolfe St. complex opened, it was clear that the architect had been given another mission: make the building nice.
Although some residents grumbled about DeWolfe's semi-cramped doubles and unneeded kitchens, the predominant impression seemed to be that DeWolfe, with its cable hookups, central air conditioning and bay windows, bore an unusual resemblance to a luxury hotel.
The Hotel Harvard theme continued with two technological advances designed to make life easier for first-year students. Clueless yardlings had Harvard information at their fingertips through the use of computer kiosks with color monitors--just like the computer kiosks about Boston at downtown luxury hotels.
And, just like guests at a ritzy hotel, residents of the Union Dorms now use electronic cards instead of metal keys to open their doors. The cards, administrators say, buttress security and make lost keys less of a hassle.
If Harvard food is not yet up to hotel standards, it seems to be improving. A new dining services director, Michael W. Berry, has proclaimed his dedication to "the liberal art of eating." Returning undergraduates were greeted with a new daily sandwich bar, more soups and promises of theme meals four times each month.
Compare this to historic Harvard, where students in 1638 took Headmaster Nathaniel Eaton to court for a variety of infractions, among them serving meals consisting of little more than moldy bread and beer.
Current students who are dissatisfied will have recourse outside the court system. President Neil L. Rudenstine will hold office hours on a first-come, first-served basis beginning next week, and continuing on four other dates this semester. Rudenstine's predecessor, Derek C. Bok, did not hold regular office hours during his 20-year tenure.
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