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When the Committee on House Life (CHL) recently requested all House Committees to submit copies of their annual budgets for review, CHL members said they hoped to promote communication rather than competition among Houses.
But the committee’s request has met with resistance from some House Committee chairs, who say their individuality and autonomy are threatened by such a measure.
“There’s a perception that certain HoCos have a lot more money than others,” said former Quincy House Committee member Brian R. Smith ’02. “Another perception is that HoCos could use more money. In order to give Houses more money, we need to see evidence that they don’t have enough and the way that more money would be spent,” he said. “Looking at the budgets is a necessary step to getting more money to the Houses and to equalize spending across the Houses.”
Last month, Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 and Coordinator of Student Activities Susan T. Cooke ’76 sent a letter to all House Masters and House Committee chairs asking them to submit their budget, explicitly delineating all revenues and expenses.
When only three Houses submitted their budgets on time, Lewis and Cooke sent a more urgent request for the submissions.
While House Committees have traditionally planned social events individually, HoCos have recently attempted to combine efforts using the recently created HoCo-open e-mail list, started by Smith earlier this year. HoCo officers used the list to coordinate sponsorship of the joint tailgate at Harvard-Yale this year.
But several chairs have expressed hesitation at the thought of increased future collaboration.
Michal Y. Spechler ’03, who currently serves as social chair of the Leverett House Committee and will co-chair the committee next year, said she supports HoCo collaboration but sees “no reason to have our actions dictated from above.”
“If a central body allocates money, they may also dictate that Houses use it to certain ends,” she said. “This only serves to strip us of any vestige of personality that was left after randomization.”
Angela M. Salvucci ’02, chair of the Kirkland House Committee, said Kirkland would not be submitting their budget to CHL.
“We thought it was inappropriate at this time because they haven’t provided enough information for us, such as what the budgets will be used for,” she said. “They’re coming at the angle that they’re going to help us out, but there’s just no evidence that we need help.”
Salvucci said she was especially concerned that CHL, which is considered a part of the central administration of the College, was interfering in areas outside its jurisdiction and infringing on House Committees’ autonomy.
Eliot House Committee chair Emily R. Murphy ’03 said she was “a little apprehensive” about what CHL was planning to do once the information was collected.
“We have a great treasurer and a really good record-keeping system,” she said. “I’m not sure we want another party to come in and tell us how to do the things we’ve been doing.”
But Associate Dean of the College Thomas A. Dingman ’67 reminded the House Committee chairs that financial training is standard operating procedure for student groups.
“House committees haven’t been treated like registered student groups in the past, in that the latter are required to go through basic training,” Dingman said. “When the issue of House Committee budgets was raised, members of the Committee [on House Life] thought it would be useful to have information on each House’s budget, and that perhaps we could end up with greater equity and Houses learning from one another.”
Dingman expressed regret that HoCos were hesitant to submit this information.
“The student officers who are reluctant are missing the point,” he said.
“It’s unfortuante that this request has been thought of as a dean’s plot.”
But not all House Committees reacted negatively. Several House Committees submitted their budgets without dissent. Marie-Therese F. Panlilio ’02, co-chair of Currier House Committee, was very supportive of the measure.
“Building more communication is really important and could be very useful,” she said. “Other Houses do great things and sharing information could increase overall social life at Harvard. I think it’s silly to reinvent the wheel each time.”
In speaking about the CHL House of the Month Award—a grant of $250 given to the House that puts on the most impressive social activities—Panlilio expressed concern that some House Committees were territorial about their ideas.
“A forum for sharing, rather than competing, could better ensure that all student is having a high-quality experience in their House,” she said. “It shouldn’t ever be that someone is so proud of their House because it is so much better.”
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