The decision to make Dudley a "House" and to give commuters a separate facility of their own is an unfortunate solution to one of the College's most pressing problems. Ever-rising costs make the commuter a necessity, but the thirty years since the Houses were established have amply demonstrated that the non-resident easily becomes separated from the College: it is regrettable that the Administration has been willing to accept this and simply try to improve the present situation rather than completely replacing it.
Commuting is admitted to be a compromise between the ideal Harvard education and economic realities; some of the conveniences of undergraduate life are sacrificed for the sake of a cheaper education. But the sacrifices are not made because they are inherently desirable but to make the "economy model" education available. There is nothing attractive about sequestering the economically, socially, intellectually, and geographically narrow commuting body and putting it in a separate physical facility; but it is apparently necessary.
In theory, of course, there is no need for commuters to be separated from the resident students. For a decade or so, a few Administration officials have suggested that commuters should be made non-resident members of resident houses. The proposal has been rejected repeatedly for two practical reasons: commuters themselves do not want amalgamation with other Houses, and the Masters feel that non-resident members would put an unacceptable burden on the already overloaded Houses.
The commuters have been afraid that integration into the existing Houses would deprive them of gains they have made with great difficulty, and the often halfhearted nature of officials proposals has been discouraging on this account. But there is another group which is unwilling to abandon the local atmosphere of Dudley where they feel that their problems are better understood. It seems rather odd, however, to suggest that non-residents should be carefully insulated from students living at the College: someone who cannot be happy in a heterogeneous community seems rather out of place in a national college.
The opening of Leverett towers and Quincy provide an opportunity for complete non-resident membership which would be a real gain for commuters. The space opened could be used for expansion or deconversion, but commuters could be brought in without increasing crowding. In fact, the money which would otherwise be spent for a commuter center could be devoted to enlarging the present dining halls or building adjoining smaller rooms, and few other alterations would be needed: lockers would be installed, and a suite might be set aside for overnight use of commuters, but present use of the Dudley facilities suggests that not even the libraries would need to be expanded.
The dinings halls should be, and naturally will be, the center of the non-resident's relation to the House. If the money which would be spent on an independent facility went into the dining halls, there is no reason why they should be overcrowded, and if a punch-ticket for, say, three meals a week were provided to replace the inconvenient coupon books, commuters would be encouraged to become part of the House through the dining halls.
But though House life centers around eating together, the Commuter would be perfectly able to participate in House athletics and other activities such as drama groups. He would certainly meet both his classmates and tutors through House tutorial, and this would be even easier when non-honors tutorial became a reality.
In theory, the packing of commuters into a "House" of their own with good facilities will mold them into a group with high esprit which will be terribly anxious to participate in the College's activities. But by no stretch of the imagination will Dudley be a real House, for it is so selected and constructed that parochialism must be its greatest common denominator. The name "House" is merely a device to conceal the fact that there will be a change in privileges but no change in relation to the rest of the College.
The crux of the matter is whether the residential College is willing to sacrifice a little convenience to make the commuter's education for more valuable. Commuting has become a convenient way to add flexibility to the enrollment, but it should also, as Master Leighton points out, be a real educational opportunity. If the College hopes to attract more able commuters, it must make them something more than visitors to classes, and it must take them out of their separated facility and bring them into the College.
Harvard is tentatively committed to a center for non-residents. But if this "House" is built, there will be no further freedom for speculation or experiment. If the College does not wish to find itself frozen to a travesty of the House system, it should look carefully at the possibilities of bringing commuters into residential Houses. The opportunities opened by Quincy and Leverett Towers should be exploited, not lost by default; the obstacles must be overcome, not used as excuses for doing nothing.
Read more in NewsHouse Seminars: Classes With Dinner Breaks
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