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Policy Plans and Policy Reality

The WSO thread on Anchor Housing is too nested for all but the most obsessive among us to follow. But there are some real gems buried in there, which EphBlog is pleased to bring to your attention.

This one is from Emily Steinhagen ’04.

Not so long ago, in the days of House Presidents, Social Chairs, Goodrich Committee, Log Committe, SAC, etc., a bunch of students and administrators got together to form ACE. The thought that was with more coordination and talking between event planners, we could all increase the diversity of parties and other forms of social interaction and entertainment while making it easier for students to get involved and have fun with it. At the same time, the CUL plan to have HC’s was implemented.

In practice, here’s how things changed, as far as I can see: Instead of *elected* members of each house representing the interests/desires of residents getting together weekly to discuss social issues and plan things, self selected members of ACE (often fewer of them than the number of houses, and not necessarily living where there would be parties) got together and looked at an overall week-long plan for events. When they wanted to use a space, they asked an HC, who often had little to no involvement in the party, other than signing a form. When things didn’t go well, they got frustrated. The number of students planning events dropped. Then again, when House Presidents got frustrated with the system, they could resign or stop throwing events in their spaces, limiting the number of options.

As for the parties themselves, I didn’t notice much of a difference. Well, except for the whole presence of security thing, but thats a separate discussion. There were still themes. People still went to parties that their friends were working at. Residents of houses still didn’t like their common areas getting messed up. Some residents liked having big parties, others didn’t. After all, even back in the day of 6-person room draw groups with no gender balancing, there were still different groups of friends who had to learn to live together.

I think we’d be deluding ourselves to think that the “house party” scene is going to substantially change, regardless of who is planning the parties. The demand for them will probably be fairly constant over the years, as will the level of dislike for them. Parties will always be more popular in September and October than in February.

When you talk about the nature of the weekend social scene, maybe you should think about it practically: What are the alternatives? What kinds of events do you expect to happen? and then ask, is the anchor system essential for these kinds of events? How will it facilitate them?

It seems as though the CUL is trying to address 2 issues: diversity in residential life, and a supposedly problematic and disatisfactory social scene. I’m not sure any system could or should solve both of those issues (though I might argue that the second issue is actually a nonissue that has been created by this kind of discussion. People at Williams tend to be happy there, which is really one of the best qualities of the place. No, its not perfect. But who really thinks we’re going to be able to find a system that no one will complain about?)

It is unsurprising to me that paying HC’s doesn’t work that well. All the reasons that make paying JA’s a very bad idea apply here as well. Paying anyone for a job for which there are enough (competent) volunteers is never a good idea. (As best I understand it, HC’s do things that used to be done by House Presidents, Vice Presidents, Social Chairs and the like. But perhaps I don’t understand things.)

If we could guarantee that the same people would become JA’s or House Presidents or College Council reps or, even, CUL members and that they would perform the job in the same way, then paying them wouldn’t be bad. The problem is that money changes things. It changes the set of people who seek the job and it changes the attitude that they bring to it, rarely for the better.

A cynical observor of how bureaucracies function will note, however, that paying HC’s increases the fiefdom of both the Dean’s Office and the Housing Office. (Who picks HC’s? Who do they report to? Who checks that they are doing a good job?)

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#1 Comment By Reed Wiedower On January 25, 2005 @ 10:26 am

I served as a House President during the transition period and the move to HCs was clearly a power play by the Dean’s office to reign in control of the House Presidents. I remember a fairly contentious meeting of the HPs where Security and the Deans were loudly criticized. Why? Because they were (once again) trying to exert control of the last student-run center of power. The House Presidents were accountable only to the students: if we decided to take dues money from freshman and use it to sponsor a party with alcohol, we could. If we wanted to have more large parties, we could.

By offering the HCs the ability to do unwanted tasks (deal with B&G, solve fire marshal issues, etc.) the HP’s wouldn’t want to, the Dean’s office created a perfect way to remove the HP’s power, namely, the power of the purse. If all your House President does is schedule parties, one might wonder why you even have one, or where your dues are going…the answer is that a *true* House President should be doing all of the above, for free.

The old problem with the House Presidents system was that it unfairly taxed lower members of the student body for items they could not legally consume. Also, some House Presidents seemed to relish picking into large party-friendly houses and then nixing them for all-campus events. But the CUL’s reaction solved neither of these problems.

If anyone doubts the long-term trend of the social system at Williams, one merely has to look back a decade or two, when large parties stretched from Ft. Totten to the Odd Quad. Over the ensuing years, one by one, the number and size of parties at Williams has decreased. Barriers (both real and imaginary) now surround events. When I came to Williams, there were at least 3 row house parties happening every weekend. When I left, most weekends never had more than two, and many weekends there were none at all.

I’m not arguing that such a change is bad or good, but it is important to note that it *is* happening. Ms. Steinhagen is wrong: demand and supply for parties at Williams is decreasing. Just ask any Security Officer who’s been around more than ten years.