Although I am certain that the current housing system, a campus wide lottery, is better than the house affiliation system of the 1980’s, I am open-minded on the cluster proposal. Will Dudley ’89 is a smart guy and my bias would be to agree with his suggestions.
They are probably smart enough to figure all of these out on their own but here are some words of wisdom from a grizzled witness and veteran of institutional battles.
- Form a group. You need an actual organization, with a catchy name, dedicated to preserving the campus wide lottery system or, perhaps, just to ensuring that major changes in College life are only enacted after the appropriate amount of due diligence. It should have officers and a (long) list of members.
- Create a web page. This does not need to be anything fancy, but it should be a one stop resource for people. It should include an overview of the proposal, links to various source materials, and a summary of the group’s argument. Take the high road and provide links to the best arguments that the pro-cluster folks have to offer, along with your point-by-point rebuttals.
- Consider a blog. Actually, EphBlog would be happy to host updates from you about your efforts. At the very least, the webpage should have a “latest news” section with updates, site additions and the like.
- Start a mailing list. This does not have to be anything fancy, just a simple list-server from WSO would do the trick. You need a way to update people on what is going on.
- Recruit a vanguard. Who are the 5 to 25 students who are really going to work at this? It should not be trouble to get hundreds of supporters, people willing to sign petitions and the like. But who are the ones that are willing to put in some hours? Identify them and cultivate them. Give them positions and titles. Look for people at the forum on Monday.
- Find some faculty/alumni support. This is not about finding people who are willing to do anything just yet (although that time will come), but you want to have some names on the “advisory board”, or whatever, who are willing to lend their reputations to your cause. Dave Johnson ’71 and Norma Lopez ’95 come to mind immediately.
- Get College Council on your side. CC has its faults but it is rightly jealous of its perogatives. Recruit CC members to the organization itself. Request time at the next meeting to present your objections. Have your CC members handle that. You want a vast majority of CC to be on your side and to pass a resolution to that effect.
- Demonstrate student opinion on several levels. First, nothing beats a written petition with a thousand or more signatures. Don’t start this until you have a sense of just the right question to ask. The powers-that-be will be impressed when you hand this pile to them. Second, try to use the JOSE system to hold an actual referendum. (You may need CC permission/support for this.) Even if only 50% of students participate (and you should try to maximize participation), 90% in your favor would still help. Third, try to show support house by house. Try to get House Presidents and/or CC reps to hold straw polls at snacks.
- Fight the process, not the substance. Your effort to stop the proposal needs to begin, this year, with stopping the immediate implentation. The focus should be on the process being too fast, with not enough student input, adequate study, relevant data, comparisons to other colleges and the like. The clusterites make a lot of empirical claims about what life would be like with clusters. These claims are testable, to some extent, because of the natural variation of housing policies at other colleges like Williams. Demand that the data be gathered (which will take time!) and examined.
- Don’t reach out to President Schapiro, Dean Roseman and the trustees just yet. Get all your ducks in a row first.
No guarantees that this will work, but I think that much of the above would help your cause. If anyone actually proceeds along these lines, and wants to hear more free advice — you get what you pay for! — I would be happy to oblige.
You need to get moving now, before second semester has kicked into gear. The focus should be on forcing the clusterites to slow down, to provide time for discussion, to seek empirical data for their position, to take student concerns seriously. Perhaps your group shouldn’t even be Pro-Lottery, or whatever; instead it should be a demand that such a major change in College life must not be enacted precipitously. If cluster housing is truly a good idea, it will be a good idea next year as well. You are Students for Due Diligence on Housing Policy not Students Whining About The Administrations Latest Policy Change.