Randomized Housing: Jewett's Legacy

In mid-May, after months of deliberation and consultation with students, Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett '57 chose to randomize the first-year housing lottery.

Next year, students in the class of 1999 will enter the spring housing lottery in groups of as many as 16 and will be placed randomly in one of the 12 undergraduate houses.

This change has been in the wind for years, since the College decided in 1990 to institute the current system of non-ordered choice in the interest of increasing diversity.

Under non-ordered choice, students put down their top four choices in no particular order and are placed in one of the four through a lottery. About 90 percent of blocking groups received one of their four choices in this system, and the remaining 10 percent were randomized.

Many students have said the decision to randomize infringes upon students' freedom of choice and will destroy the College's community feeling.


"Students should be able to choose who they live with," said Kelsey W. McNiff '98, a first-year randomized into Leverett House this spring.

Last month, more than 200 students protested Jewett's decision with a demonstration in front of University Hall and letters to Harvard Club presidents across the country.

But while students argued that randomization will be the death of house spirit, the majority of administrators and house masters, on the other hand, said they believe the houses are not diverse enough.

"I believer firmly in what [former Harvard] President [A. Lawrence] Lowell said, to make each house a microcosm of the College," said Quincy House Master Michael Shinagele."

The History

Randomization is another step in the evolution of the house system that began fifty years ago.

When President Lowell funded the house system in the 1930s, he hoped that every house would be a microcosm of the College.

Until the early 1970s, however, each master chose which students would be placed in his house on the basis of students' applications and interviews. according to Secretary of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences [FAS] John B. Fox Jr. '59.

The College imposed constraints on the number of prep school graduates allowed, as well as on the number of students from academic Group I or Group II allowed per house, Fox said.

In 1971, the application system was eliminated and students were asked to rank all 12 houses.