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Harvard Considers Yale-Style Housing

Curricular review committee looks into assigning Houses at beginning of first year

By William C. Marra and Alan J. Tabak, Crimson Staff Writerss

Future first-years who find it hard to get out of bed on a cold March morning to learn their House assignment could be in for an even earlier start—in August.

Faculty and students involved with the curricular review say that a shift to a housing system similar to that of Yale, where first-years are assigned to their permanent upperclass dorm before entering in the fall, is on the table.

“It is something that we are taking seriously,” said Currier House Assistant Senior Tutor Martin R. West, a member of the curricular review’s working group on students’ overall academic experience.

But West emphasized that the working group, which is examining the first-year academic experience and student advising, is “nowhere near making a final decision” on whether to recommend the change to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

“Treat it as very serious, but preliminary in terms of actually evaluating the proposal,” he said of discussion on the topic.

Under Yale’s system, students are affiliated with one of 12 residential colleges when they receive their first-year housing assignments. Most first-years live on Old Campus, Yale’s equivalent to Harvard Yard, in a dorm specific to their residential college but adjacent to the other first-year dormitories. First-years are allowed full access to the resources of their upperclass housing, including dining and advising.

As sophomores, they move into the residential college itself.

Wolfson Professor of Jewish Studies Jay M. Harris, who co-chairs the curricular review working group looking into this issue, said shifting to such a system would enable Harvard first-years to use advising opportunities available in the Houses.

“It’s certainly not anything that anyone is prepared to recommend at this point,” Harris added.

Associate Dean of the College Jeffrey Wolcowitz confirmed that the change to Harvard’s housing system—which currently assigns first-years to a House in March after they form blocking groups—has been proposed, but he emphasized that discussions were very preliminary and no decision has yet been made.

Wolcowitz and Harris declined to say whether they favored the proposal.

In addition to improving first-year advising, Wolcowitz said that affiliating first-year students with a House could potentially ease their integration into House life.

Harris, who is also Master of Cabot House, said that while advising and integration were benefits of a Yale-like system, a shift might strain an already heavily-burdened House system.

“It is clear to me that the House resources are stretched now in terms of doing all the stuff that tutors are asked to do, and to bring this on would certainly require additional staffing and funding,” he said.

Harris said that before the idea progresses into policy, the leaders of the curricular review will need to make a lengthier investigation into the Yale system’s successes and failures.

Wolcowitz said House administrators and students would be consulted before any changes in the residential system would be recommended.

Mather House Master Sandra Naddaff said the Council of Masters has not discussed the possibility of affiliating first-years with the Houses.

Nonetheless, she speculated about the ramifications of a change in policy.

“On the one hand, I welcome the idea of bringing the freshmen into the Houses and integrating them into all aspects of House life,” she said. “Needless to say, however, resources on all fronts are limited, and we would need to have careful discussion of how to continue to serve our upperclass population well.”

Currier House Master Joseph L. Badaracco said he thought concerns about spreading human resources thin could be overcome.

“I suppose the resources could be extended in the Houses,” he said. “If some of the present resources elsewhere were diverted to the Houses, there wouldn’t need to be a problem.”

Adams House Master Sean Palfrey said he saw little reason to stray from the present House system, even though first-years might benefit from increased contact with upperclass students.

“We all think that the current House system is really very good, and I think the freshman deans and proctors like the way the freshman year goes pretty well,” Palfrey said.

Badaracco said student feedback would likely influence his and other Masters’ opinions about the possible change.

“If they thought it was a good idea and had good reasons for it, the idea could catch on,” he said.

Undergraduate Council President Matthew W. Mahan ’05 said he was skeptical about the proposition because it limited student choice in forming blocking groups.

“It would be sad if we were forced to live with people in our dorm and we weren’t given a choice,” Mahan said. “My position right now is that we need to have the discussion, but I am pretty apprehensive about moving to Yale’s housing system.”

But he said he would support a measure to alleviate the stress of choosing blockmates.

—Staff writer William C. Marra can be reached at wmarra@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Alan J. Tabak can be reached at tabak@fas.harvard.edu.

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