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College to Allow Dorm-Room Businesses

By Parker R. Conrad, Crimson Staff Writer

Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 on Friday proposed rewording the College rules to allow students to run businesses from their dorm rooms.

The current regulations forbid Harvard students from operating any business out of their rooms or using any Harvard resources--such as a dorm telephone line or Harvard network connection--for business purposes.

Students have always been allowed to start their own businesses off campus, but many student entrepreneurs have said restrictions on dorm use had made such ventures very difficult.

"In the past, if you wanted to operate a business as a Harvard student, it was a little awkward to work around the restrictions," said Johann M. Schleier-Smith '01, who is a co-founder of the online textbook purchasing website

The proposed new wording of the Handbook for Students, unveiled at the Friday meeting of the joint student-faculty Committee on House Life, would allow students to operate businesses from their room, but only on a limited basis.

Student wishing to run businesses would be required to register their intention to do so with the office of the dean of the College.

Under the new proposal, moderate use of Harvard's resources for business purposes would be allowed, but students would be required to ensure their use of resources such as their Harvard mailing address or personal web pages did not become "excessive."

Schleier-Smith said he didn't think it would be difficult for students to moderate their use of Harvard resources for business activities. According to Schleier-Smith, student-entrepreneurs usually prefer to keep business use of their dorm rooms to a minimum anyway.

"Harvard's resources are very analogous to your home resources--your home phone, your home mail address," he said. "You want to separate your private life from your business life."

Lewis stressed the change is not intended to encourage, but merely permit, student businesses.

"This is not a statement one way or the other," he said. "We have got to do one step at a time."

Lewis said the Handbook change, which has been approved by the Administrative Board, was spurred by the growth of the Internet. Online business ventures allow students to conduct a great deal of activity from their own computers, which Lewis said can be less disruptive than brick-and-mortar businesses.

According to Lewis, the College can forbid activity that interferes with the educational experience, without forbidding all businesses activity.

"We asked ourselves, 'why do we have this regulation on the books?,'" he said.

Schleier-Smith said he didn't think student entrepreneurialism conflicts with the College's liberal arts focus.

"It's quite a valuable educational experience that can complement anything you learn at Harvard," he said.

Lewis agreed student-run businesses weren't necessarily disruptive, noting that in many cases, running a small business was no different than holding a part-time job.

Lewis said that the change in policy was also a reflection of what administrators already took to be a reality: Students have already been running businesses from their dorm rooms in violation of the rules.

"Learning from some recent alums what they had been doing while they were students made us ask ourselves why we had rules against [student businesses]," Lewis said.

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