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The Council of Masters decided last week to allow each undergraduate House to determine its own policy on keycard access—with universal keycard access (UKA) being the “default” system in place beginning this September. The Council’s decision is a long awaited and encouraging step, and we strongly encourage all House Masters to adopt the default system. The issue of UKA is of utmost importance because of the relevant safety concerns involved. Anything short of full UKA, and the College should consider taking decisions about keycard access out of Masters’ hands.
Students’ ability to swipe into any House during the night provides them with nearby safehavens in the event that they are threatened when far away from their own House. The recent spate of sexual assaults near and on campus only heightens the need for keycard arrangements that give students more possible safe places to escape potential attackers. But despite these concerns, which students have raised for years, many House Masters have long insisted on imposing nighttime restrictions on keycard access. Council of Masters Chair and Mather Master Sandra Naddaff said that under the new policy, Houses may still choose to opt out of UKA because of different architectural configurations in the Houses and masters’ individual concerns.
Doing so would be a mistake. Although fears that an interloper may have access to student bedrooms and then start pilfering at will—once he or she has swiped in—may seem plausible, this is an invalid objection. Quincy House Master Robert P. Kirshner ’70 explains, “Most cases of theft in all the Houses involve students letting unauthorized people into the House or failing to take the elementary precaution of keeping the suite door locked.” Therefore, House communities can take other precautions to address the problem of theft: Students can lock their room doors, and masters and tutors should advise them to do so. Additionally, the implementation of UKA makes it less likely that dangerous trespassers will convince resident students to let them piggyback; if all students are provided access at all times, excuses that one’s card does not work late at night will no longer fly.
Indeed, House Masters would do well to follow the lead of Quincy, which implemented UKA in 1998 and, according to Kirshner, has seen no adverse effects. Given the success at Quincy and the improvements in student safety (which UKA can affect), some Masters’ adamant opposition seems incomprehensible. One can only conclude that some abstract notion of House autonomy has trumped concerns for the safety of Harvard’s students. This is entirely unacceptable; the College should consider pressuring recalcitrant Masters who insist on restricting access to open their doors to all undergraduates
We are pleased with the great progress that has been made on this issue—in large part through the lobbying efforts of members of the Undergraduate Council—and we look forward with hope to UKA in the fall.
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