The New Trials of Heading A House

Masters find job, academic work harder to juggle

Winthrop House Master Paul D. Hanson and Co-Master Cynthia Rosenberger were the first to announce their resignation in September.

Currier’s masters, William A. and Barbara S. Graham, followed with their own announcement the first week of January.

And the resignation of Cabot’s masters, James H. and Janice Ware, hit their House e-mail list less than three weeks later.

Though three of the 12 House masters are departing at the end of this year, Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 and Associate Dean of the College Thomas A. Dingman ’67 say no trend underlies the moves.

Lewis chalks the departures up to the normal cycle of administrative turnover, pointing out that no masters left at the end of last year.

“It all evens out over time,” Lewis says.

But some masters say that over the past decade reforms to the Housing system—from randomization to more stringent review systems—have fundamentally changed the role of the master.

Trying to build a community from a random body of students while maintaining their rigorous academic schedule, many masters say they could not imagine staying in their positions for the decades-long terms that were the norm before the late 1990s.

Instead, masters—like the Hansons, Wares and Grahams—choose to leave in order to escape the strain that House duties put on their professional obligations. The Wares leave after eight years, the Hansons, 10, and the Grahams, 12.

“I think people are just overwhelmed,” Quincy House Co-Master Jayne Loader says.

And the five-year appointment system that Lewis has followed provides a convenient time for masters spread thin by their administrative and academic responsibilities to bow out of their positions.

“[It’s] a time when you can gracefully leave the House,” says Arnold Professor of Science William H. Bossert ’59, who was master of Lowell House for 23 years. “When you had House masters for a long time, when someone left you’d have to start thinking. There’d be an issue.”

Lewis says he hopes the master searches in all three Houses will be completed by spring vacation.But the dramatic turnover of a quarter of the masters this year suggests the changed role of the master is a more permanent legacy.

Mayor of a Small Town

Being a House master is not an easy job, according to the masters that are stepping down this year—and even according to those that are sticking it out.

All three pairs of House masters who have resigned this year cite—at least in part—their inability to focus on their academic pursuits while taking care of their House.