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UC Blasts Ban on Fireplaces

Members call rule unilateral

By William B. Higgins and Katharine A. Kaplan, Crimson Staff Writerss

Undergraduate Council members upset by a recent ban on fireplace use in House dorm rooms offered an alternative to the policy at a council meeting last night.

The resolution called for a repeal of the current restriction on fireplace use, proposing increased fire safety education and school-provided fire extinguishers and screens.

Then-Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 instituted the fireplace ban this past summer, citing safety concerns.

“The risk is sufficiently high and the consequences of a failure so catastrophic that it is simply imprudent to continue as we have been and to hope for the best,” Lewis wrote in a memo announcing the policy change only weeks before the end of his deanship.

But council members criticized what they called a unilateral decision by the dean’s office to institute the ban. They argued that fireplaces provide a unique opportunity for social interaction in Houses.

“It was pretty much a mandate from the deans, and we had no say in it. This is getting our say back,” said council representative Theodore E. Chestnut ’06, who sponsored the bill.

Council President Rohit Chopra ’04 said there has never been an uncontrolled blaze due to fireplace misuse.

Chopra added that most minor “incidents” involving fireplaces generally have been “lack of common sense-related.”

He cited one case where students attempted to burn a Christmas tree in their fireplace, and another where a student carried a burning log through a dorm hallway.

Yesterday’s proposal recommended that the Committee on House Life and the Council of Masters—which traditionally advise administrators on House rules but were not consulted before administrators imposed the ban—consider the fireplace policy.

Some professors have already expressed opposition to the restriction.

Plumber Professor of Christian Morals Peter J. Gomes spoke against the policy at a Faculty meeting last Tuesday.

“There were certain amenities lavished on this place 80 years ago. One was fireplaces and the ability to light fires,” he said. “It’s a question of quality of life.”

Chopra noted that he has been in contact with the dean’s office regarding the future of fireplaces and said he expects the council’s proposal to have an impact.

“I’m hoping this will be the only year fireplaces are not allowed,” Chopra said.

In other business, the council resolved to start a series of social nights at Loker Commons, beginning on a trial basis in the next month, to supplement its biweekly movie nights.

Resolution sponsors Divya A. Mani ’05 and John F. Voith ’07 said the manager of Loker is eager to bring more students to the seldom-used social space.

Last night’s meeting concluded with the approval of the second grants package of the fall semester, totaling more than $40,000. Council members peppered Finance Committee Chair Joshua A. Barro ’05 with questions about allocations.

At one point, council Secretary Andrew C. Stillman ’06 attempted to eliminate the grant for Harvard Right to Life’s recent “Women Deserve Better” postering campaign, calling the unusually large, full-color posters extravagant.

The campaign has sparked controversy for its portrayal of a rape victim expressing regret for having had an abortion.

After several minutes of debate, council members soundly defeated the proposed amendment in a roll-call vote with a substantial number of abstentions.

The grant bill passed by acclamation, though consideration of funding for a number of groups was postponed until the next meeting.

—Staff writer William B. Higgins can be reached at whiggins@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Katharine A. Kaplan can be reached at kkaplan@fas.harvard.edu.

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