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The Name is Not Enough

By Brian A. Finn

Ask American college students why they chose their school and you’ll get a wide range of responses. Some will cite the excellent facilities or beautiful campus; others will bring up the dynamic social life or close working relationships with professors. Ask a Harvard student why he or she chose Harvard and you’ll likely hear the answer—“Because it’s Harvard.”

Basically, the Harvard name is reason in and of itself to attend. So while other colleges work hard to attract the best applicants by having nice exercise equipment or low student-faculty ratios, Harvard can live off its good name. The Harvard name is certainly an asset; but it gives the administration the freedom to disregard the quality of student life.

Just venture into the MAC, and you’ll witness this phenomenon first hand. After you make your way out of the antiquated locker room, you’ll find yourself in perhaps the smallest exercise facility of any college in the country. At a school that costs around $40,000 a year, its central athletic facility has one treadmill per thousand students and a bench press per three thousand, give or take a few. To make matters worse, this already crowded facility is not just used by undergraduate students but graduate students and anyone at all associated with Harvard. You’ll frequently find yourself waiting behind some fat, middle-aged lady to get done with her walk on the treadmill or having to share sets with a bald guy wearing bike shorts.

Harvard students are not only denied stress relief in an athletic setting, but also in a social setting. The school does little to help out the fledging frats and sororities—organizations that could provide meaningful social outlets—and has always been at odds with the final clubs. On the weekends, students often find themselves crowded into tiny room parties or having to venture into Boston, a city that offers little in the way of recreational activity to those under the age of 21 or without $120 fake IDs.

While other colleges have big elaborate student unions equipped with bowling alleys, movie theatres and fast food restaurants, Harvard has Loker Commons. This pathetic attempt at building community is a total failure. Were Harvard students supposed to be really excited about going to a place that has a pseudo fast food restaurant and some pool tables missing pool balls? And rather than taking steps to rectify their mistake, the University has instead decided to launch a marketing campaign, hoping that students will be coerced by slick posters.

These problems extend even into dorm rooms, which have not undergone any changes since the Civil Rights Movement. A recent article in The New York Times described how many colleges including Princeton and Yale have plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars renovating their residence halls. Harvard has no such plans. Students are still stuck in cramped overheated rooms watching fuzzy network television.

Although we didn’t come to Harvard to watch cable TV, such amenities do matter. We no longer live in a world where there are only six reputable colleges. Perspective students are discovering that there are many good schools out there—schools like Pomona, which have hotel-suite style dormitories and college-funded skiing and surfing days. It is only a matter of time before students decide they’d rather have a sweet college experience than a sweet name to put on their resume.

—Brian A. Finn is a business editor.

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