Risky Business

Methinks these HoCos doth protest too much

The record will show that Mather House fired the first shot. On Sunday night, while the Harvard Undergraduate Council (UC) split hairs about paying for club sports and ultra-chic fashion shows, the Mather House Council (HoCo) voted to secede from Harvard University. The causus belli: a foam machine.

Lowell House took the bait first, proclaiming their “duty as Lowellians to uphold this glorious Harvard Union.” Should Mather secede, Lowell would instantaneously “enter a state of war with the treasonous Matherites.” Faced with a rebellion by some of Harvard’s troublesome Southern confederates, Lowell was itching to fight, to keep the “Union” whole.

First question: too soon?

Things quickly got out of hand. Winthrop House’s UC representative encouraged his Housemates to vote in a referendum on their own sovereignty. His email to the UC was signed “Gen. Sadam.” (Too soon? Two ‘d’s?) Other Houses declared war on one another, some declared their neutrality. I stopped paying attention.

Aside from way too much spare time, the Mather HoCo had a short list of grievances that accompanied its proclamation. At its head was the demand that the UC buy the House a new $1700 foam machine for its infamous Mather Lather party, to be held this weekend in the House’s dining hall.

It’s ironic that Mather’s request was turned down at this time of year, as the UC’s Finance Committee is midway through its annual death-spiral into insolvency. After a year of giving out buckets of cash to student groups—which frequently pack the UC’s meetings with desolate-looking, begging-and-pleading volunteer tutors when their grant applications are up for discussion—the cupboard is finally bare. Mather’s HoCo has no change to spare, either. After a year of happy hours and movie nights, the House is fresh out of cash, and right before its annual dance-party-cum-human-car-wash.

To be fair, the Lather is world-famous; two years ago, it made headlines when dozens of attendees showed up at the hospital covered in painful rashes in the days that followed. Mather’s case for UC funding rested on the claim that since the party is so well attended, it deserved funding beyond the $4,700 that the UC allocates to each House per semester.

Never mind that just about every House throws a blow-out party at some point during the year to which the whole campus is invited, or that running a student organization with a fixed budget—be it the UC, a HoCo, or any other—requires allocating that budget responsibly. Mather should get the extra funding it deserves, but not because it needs a new foam machine. Mather should get the extra funding it deserves for being a really terrible place to live. Mather is the Quad, without the ambiance.

Not only do Mather residents live a mile away from anything except Dunster House—which is hardly a great consolation—but they also have to contend with suites that make the digs on submarines look homey. Sure, live in Mather and you’ll score a single bedroom for three years, but good luck finding it. To say nothing of the fact that the Mather HoCo is evidently completely and totally insane. (Secession? Really? Who do you think you are? Ukraine? At least they have oil-rich pipelines. Mather has exposed pipes.)

Instead of the one-size-fits-all policy now in place for funding HoCos, the UC should hold hearings at the beginning of the year, to assess just how miserable each House’s inhabitants really are, or, more accurately, how miserable they ought to be. Forget that the House system should probably reflect its own randomized nature and keep funding as equal as possible across the board.

Perish the thought that HoCo funding could very easily be increased, if the UC made the decision, however politically difficult, to reallocate some of the money it currently gives to student groups’ sparsely-attended pizza nights to HoCos for their events. The Mather HoCo is onto something: The greater the pain-in-the-neck, the bigger the check.

So good riddance to Lowell’s wretched Unionists and to war-mongering Mather; let them be compensated for their bells that ring off-key and for their banishment to Central Square, respectively. I can’t wait to see what Harvard’s Houses-to-be across the river in Allston extract in exchange for their commute, which will arouse sympathy even from Matherites. The UC’s funding policies won’t change before Mather covers 650 innocent people in gallons of liquid soap, so scores will have to be settled some other way—a gentlemanly duel, perhaps, or a campus-wide game of Risk.

A word to the wise, however: Never get involved in a land war in the Yard. You just might end up Quadded.

Adam Goldenberg ’08 is a social studies concentrator in Winthrop House. His column appears on alternate Tuesdays.

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