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Best of the Record – A History of Housing

I am entirely uninterested in rehashing the many pages of posts about Williams’s housing system, but am re-posting these articles from 2001 for people so as to inform the current discussion, especially going into next week’s forums. Note that this post does not mention anything that took place after 2001: please take comments and discussion about post-2001 history elsewhere, and let me know if anything below is inaccurate or incomplete.

Housing: The abolition of the Greek system – By Dave Glick
The College became progressively more troubled by the segregation of the student body and continuously declining GPAs of the fraternity members, and decided to take action. The prohibition of first-year pledging and the 1952 building of Baxter Hall, a $1 million student center took the first step toward reducing the fraternities’ influence.

The fraternities’ decline continued throughout the 1950s, as the College forbade them from racially and religiously discriminating in selecting its members. The College also instituted a “total opportunity” policy, whereby every student wishing to join a fraternity would receive at least one invitation. […]

The decision of the Trustees to revoke funding [thanks to a report by a well-respected group of alums/students, all of whom had been fraternity members] was not well- received by the student body. On Friday, Sept. 19, 1962, 75 to 125 students rioted in front of President Saywer’s house. In addition, close to 560 students, 87 percent of the College’s fraternity membership and almost half of the student body, signed a petition in protest of the decision. […]

The eight new upperclass housing clusters for the 1971-1972 academic year included: Greylock (including Gladden, Hopkins, Carter and Bryant); Berkspect (Fitch, Currier, Prospect); Fort Hoosac (Fort Hoosac House, Agard, West, Dougherty); Spencer (Brooks, Spencer, West, with overflow in Mission Park); Perry (Perry, with overflow in Mission Park); Bascom (Bascom, West, with overflow in Mission Park); Wood (Wood, Garfield, West, with overflow in Mission Park); Tyler (Tyler, with overflow in Mission Park).

Once assigned to a house as a first-year, virtually all students remained within their house until graduation. Every spring, there was a separate room draw within the house to determine the rooming arrangements for the following year.

Housing after fraternities: filling the vacuum – By Dave Glick
Students in a housing group ate their meals together at a set time in the house dining room. Each of the row houses had its own dining area, and Greylock dining hall was divided into four sections, one for each Greylock house. Housemates sitting down to meals together was a vital part of the house system: “in addition to activities, the most important part of social life was having meals together,” explains Wendy Hopkins ’72, director of Alumni Relations. […]

Houses did have “guest meals,” meals to which the members of a group could invite other students or faculty members to dine with them, but other than these weekly occasions, students ate with their houses. Kolesar, who was a member of Fitch House, describes “tablecloths and a served meal, with student waitstaff” every Thursday for guest meals in Driscoll — a guest meal was “special, enough so that some students would even put on a jacket and/or tie!” […]

By 1980, with the house system very much in place, increasing transfers had begun to shift the housing focus from house to class. A 1980 issue of the Record stated “the exodus of students – predominately sophomores – from Mission Park and the Berkshire Quad lends credence to the ‘typical’ housing scenario: sophomore year Mission Park or Berkshire Quad; junior-senior years: Greylock or Row Houses.” […]

Asserting that “significant changes in dining habits have taken place in the last few years and that habits are apparently continuing to change,” and “many students now gravitate to the major dining halls to take their meals,” the [Gilford] committee recommended closing the Spencer-Brooks, Garfield-Wood, Perry and Tyler dining halls and consolidating all dining into Baxter, Greylock, Mission, Dodd and Driscoll. Furthermore, the committee recommended the establishment of three meal plans: 21, 14 and seven.

Housing: The rise of [2001’s] housing system – By Dave Glick
[…] The housing system, which relied heavily on the affiliation system, was thus undercut by the lack of coherence within houses and student attempts to find every loophole possible in order to attain the most desirable living arrangement. By the end of the 1980s, students had to be expert negotiators and crafty politicians merely to obtain a single in Mission.

Early in the decade, students began to heavily use the transfer option offered by the Dean’s Office. Previously used only for serious roommate problems and special circumstances, transferring became the norm for sophomores who did not want to spend three years in Mission or the Berkshire Quad. […]

A group of friends, typically four people, would fill out a transfer sheet listing all 15 houses in order of preference. The transfer requests were then delivered not to the Housing Office, but to the 15 elected house presidents from each dorm. […]

“The transfer process was patently unfair and dominated by favoritism,” said Tom McEvoy, director of housing since 1988. “The selection meeting was almost like watching a baseball game as the house presidents winked, nodded and used hand signals to determine who exactly was in each group.” Students requesting transfers could contact the house presidents and, if they had the right connections, would most likely succeed in transferring their affiliation. If this level of corruption was not enough to bring down the affiliation program, the practice of swapping was.

Like transferring, swapping was a College-sanctioned process. Swapping allowed students to trade rooming picks for the year while maintaining their original house affiliation. This meant that a junior in Gladden could trade picks with a junior in Prospect for a year, but then both students would return to their original houses for senior year. […]

To avoid living in a double, many freshmen would go searching for those unfortunate rising seniors who, having failed in the transfer process, had been forced to spend their junior year in Mission. The two freshmen would trade their pick in Gar-Wood for the rising seniors’ pick in Mission. The trade worked because the rising seniors were given a senior pick in Gar-Wood, guaranteeing them singles, while the freshmen assured themselves rooms in Mission.

While this is the simplest of examples, swapping set the stage for elaborate plans involving seniors who intended all along to live off-campus, but who would register for the on-campus draw, swap and pull out at the last minute. These plots involved an incredible amount of planning, politics and the occasional bribe. […]

Even apart from the corruption of transfers and the chaos of swapping, another reason contributing to the administration’s 1995 decision to end the affiliation system was the corruption of intra-house lotteries. All 15 houses had different processes for assigning rooms within the house, and so the house presidents each held their own lotteries, few of which were fair.

The Housing Office inevitably received complaints, but there was little they could do because control was entirely in the hands of the house presidents. The Housing Office could not assure the impartiality of 15 different lottery systems that changed every year. As complaints rose, the housing office decided that holding on to the affiliation system without house dining was a mistake.

In 1994, a committee was formed to evaluate the housing system. Citing the absence of house unity, the lack of allegiance to affiliations, corruption and administrative problems, the Housing Office decided to eliminate the affiliations system. An all-campus lottery was deemed the most equitable way to distribute housing. […]

To [that] day, houses continue to segregate themselves along many lines, be they interest, background or class. For instance, this year, the majority of seniors in Spencer House are members of the Women’s Crew team, not one upperclassman lives in Mission and juniors dominate Greylock.

Thus, the story of Williams housing can be said to be thus: the frats were nice, but then they didn’t work, so then we had houses that ate together, but that didn’t sustain, so we closed four dining halls, which de facto destroyed affiliations, so we went to free-agency.

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#1 Comment By hwc On October 22, 2009 @ 11:18 pm

The breakdown of house affiliations was well underway long before the house dining rooms were closed. The houses functioned as quasi-fraternities in the post-fraternity era. Increasingly, however, you had students chosing Williams specifically because fraternties had been abolished. Thus, in the 1970s, you had quasi-fraternity row house members and quasi-GDIs who wanted little to do with house affiliations. Of course, you also had (gssp) women on campus who had espcially limited interest in being members of quasi-fraternities.

Notwithstanding the Gifford Report findings, the real reason the fraternity dining rooms were closed was financial. Colleges, including Williams, were under heavy financial pressure resulting from the double-whammy of declining baby boom customer base and OPEC recession-inflation in the late 1970a. Williams simply could no longer afford dining rooms. It’s important to remember that the College grew, almost overnight, from 1400 students to 2000 students — a growth spurt that took 20 years to digest financially.

#2 Comment By David On October 23, 2009 @ 8:12 am

1) These are great articles! Thanks for posting them and kudos to Dave Glick and the other members of the 2001 Record staff for doing them.

2) Are you a member of the current Record staff? Are you working on a series of articles that are so well done and important that they will be read a decade later? Probably not. So, do something about it! Tackle a similar question. My suggestion: the history and current practice of financial aid at Williams. More details available on request.

3) Your summary is adequate but leaves out some key issues.

the frats were nice, but then they didn’t work, so then we had houses that ate together, but that didn’t sustain, so we closed four dining halls, which de facto destroyed affiliations, so we went to free-agency.

Instead, try:

the frats were nice, but then they didn’t work. the college doubled in size and admitted women, building Greylock and Mission. tiny row house dining halls were so expensive and served such a low proportion of the students that we closed them. students were assigned to specific houses, but there was such a strong and natural tendency toward living together by class that the students worked the rules so that Mission was almost all sophomores and Greylock juniors. free agency was widely agreed to as the best system. but students — especially black student and male helmet sport athletes — self-segregated too much for Morty’s taste. so he created neighborhoods.

Too wordy, I know. But I find that too much emphasis is placed on the closing of the row house dining halls without mentioning the doubling in college size, the new buildings, and women. Even if we had kept row house dining, it would have served so few students (10% of Williams?) that it would be irrelevant to the broader discussion.

#3 Comment By rory On October 23, 2009 @ 8:29 am

for the bazillionth time, us students were not in rapture with free agency. It was not a wonderful system that Morty foolishly destroyed…it was a decent enough system that was badly replaced.

#4 Comment By rory On October 23, 2009 @ 8:30 am

my last post was in response to david, not will. sorry.

#5 Comment By kthomas On October 23, 2009 @ 9:11 am

and student attempts to find every loophole possible in order to attain the most desirable living arrangement. By the end of the 1980s, students had to be expert negotiators and crafty politicians merely to obtain a single in Mission.

What? This is overblown.

#6 Comment By kthomas On October 23, 2009 @ 9:12 am

but there was such a strong and natural tendency toward living together by class that the students worked the rules so that Mission was almost all sophomores and Greylock juniors

You’re seeing what you want to see, which is just the problem that got us into the current mess.

#7 Comment By David On October 23, 2009 @ 9:17 am

Ken: I am happy to be corrected about the facts. Am I correct in thinking that 90% of Mission was sophomores in the early 90s? (I can’t find a citation for this just now, but I believe that I read it somewhere.) Wasn’t it also the case that Greylock was overwhelmingly juniors?

Or were you objecting to the “strong and natural tendency” line?

#8 Comment By kthomas On October 23, 2009 @ 9:24 am

Even if we had kept row house dining, it would have served so few students (10% of Williams?) that it would be irrelevant to the broader discussion.

There’s a great deal of hogwash here on many levels.

Row House Dining was eliminated because of perceived cost. (There are charts). The problem is — Oberlin, Reed, Berea — would you like a hundred names? — there are plenty of colleges which successfully changed how small-house dining was managed, to control costs and other factors.

So there are “other factors” in why it was eliminated.

Similarly, Oberlin, for one… has nice comfy, human-sized dining in many areas. It’s run by the House (ahem: you could have *expanded* the system to Currier, Fitch, Prospect… etc). And the wonderful thing is, you had a card, which you could take to any house, and dine there. And people did– if you have a class across campus, and then swimming next door, then why would you walk 20 minutes back to your house?

And so forth. A supposed problem with Row House Dining– an “overdetermined” problem– was that the Row Houses allegedly acted like de facto fraternities, exclusive, etc. Maybe they were, maybe they weren’t.

But things can change. The Williams approach seems to be– Herr Hausmann, fire the cannons!

#9 Comment By kthomas On October 23, 2009 @ 9:31 am

Cross-posting.

Mission was intentionally a “sophomore ghetto.” Housing policy was designed to achieve that. MANY residents DID NOT want to live there. Housing policy could have been different.

Have to run.

#10 Comment By David On October 23, 2009 @ 9:35 am

Hogwash where? All that I am claiming is that the decision to eliminate row house dining (whatever the reasons behind the decision) was not that relevant to the overall campus housing/dining scene because it affected so few students. (Perhaps I am wrong on the facts and 50%, or whatever, of students in 1972 ate in row houses.)

In particular, I thought that Will’s claim that “we had houses that ate together” was not capturing reality. (This is not Will’s fault. I think that the Record articles miss some of this.)

When, after fraternities, did Williams ever have houses that ate together? Yes, there may have been a brief period in the 60s when this was true, but, after women/Mission/Greylock, only a tiny portion (less than 10%) of Williams students “had houses that ate together.”

#11 Comment By David On October 23, 2009 @ 9:41 am

Mission was intentionally a “sophomore ghetto.” Housing policy was designed to achieve that. MANY residents DID NOT want to live there. Housing policy could have been different.

1) Whose intentions are we talking about? Not a single Williams administrator ever said: “Hey! Let’s put all the sophomores in Mission.” Williams never intended anything of the kind. Instead, when I arrived at Williams, Mission was a mix of classes. Then trading took off and the students sorted themselves so that Mission became all sophomores. Sophomores wanted to live together and Mission was the simplest/only way to make that happen. This had nothing to do with housing policy, except to the extent that trading allowed it to happen, because no Williams administrator or faculty member ever changes the policy to cause this result.

2) Obviously, housing policy could have been different. All I am trying to do is explain what Williams looked like during various time periods and why it looked that way.

#12 Comment By Kirsten On October 23, 2009 @ 9:57 am

I always thought all the sophomores ended up at Mission (early 90s) because no one else wanted to live there and traded out, and the sophs were the lowest picks of all the upperclassmen, and thus de facto ended up down in Mission. That was always my impression.

#13 Comment By Whitney Wilson ’90 On October 23, 2009 @ 10:08 am

During my time at Williams (1986-90), Mission was predominantly, but not exclusively, sophomores, and Greylock had a mix of upperclassmen (and women), but was relatively light on sophomores. For example, in my sophomore year, there were 8 sophomores in Bryant House (4 men and 4 women). I was affiliated with Bryant House, and lived there for three years, so I may not have the best recollection of this, but the degree of “corruption” as reported in Record article during this period seems overblown.

#14 Comment By David On October 23, 2009 @ 10:14 am

I have not described the history clearly. There were two periods of sophomores in Mission to consider:

1) Pre Free Agency (approximately 89 to 94). Students were assigned to specific houses. You had a spot in Carter or Pratt or Dodd or wherever. Only 1/3 (or so) of the students assigned to Pratt were Sophomores. But 90% of the people who lived in Pratt were Sophomores because lots of Sophomores assigned to Carter/Dodd/wherever traded with seniors assigned to Pratt. This trading benefited both parties.

The senior got to live in a nice house (and had a high pick in that house.) Very few seniors had any interest in living in Mission.

The sophomore got to live in Pratt with all her sophomore buddies, but she maintained her Carter/Dodd/wherever affiliation so that, in future years, she did not have to live in Pratt. Everyone won!

But, as often discussed here, the trading system was incredibly inefficient, stressful, annoying and (perhaps) corrupt. Everyone recognized that free agency would be an improvement.

2) Free agency (approximately 95 to 05). Sophomores no longer lived in Mission because they wanted to. They lived in Mission because they had to. By the time they got to pick, the vast majority of other houses were filled. But, especially post-renovation, sophomores found Mission living good.

Note (could be wrong about this, but my sister-in-law (’98) told this story) that, during free agency, Mission was much more popular among Sophomores than many other houses. In other words, Mission was filled well before the end of room draw. The last 10 (or 50?) sophomores had to live elsewhere because Mission was filled.

#15 Comment By rory On October 23, 2009 @ 10:36 am

re: mission in free agency.

Mission generally got pretty much filled up before the smaller doubles in random houses elsewhere, yes. Near the end of the sophomore picking, the options for your group often became either pick into separate mission suites with one or two empty rooms in them that may or may not be near each other or pick the few small doubles in junior/senior housing that were undesirable in general. by the lat 20 or 30 groups of students, that decision became one each person had to struggle with.

It was a very stressful decision to have to make for people. It was far from ideal and one of the things that seemed unfair was that there was no bonus towards getting a good pick in the future…so it was quite possible (and statistically to be expected) that some percentage of williams students would, each year, get the sh*t end of the stick in terms of picks compared to their classmates. that always seemed a bit off to me and not only because i had somewhat low picks two of three years.

and now, for something I’ve otherwise never said before…my brother and mother both believed swarthmore did room selection better with some sort of two-tiered lottery system. I suspect that their system might not work for williams’ dorms, but i also never listened to them explain it because i was always fine with my living situation.

#16 Comment By hwc On October 23, 2009 @ 1:14 pm

RE: #8

Ken:

I would not hold out Oberlin as an exemplar of fiscal excellence. I have not checked in them since the market collapse, but two years ago, they were in a rather dire financial situation with aa budget that was significantly out of equiliibrium and a strategic plan to address the problem of unsustainable endowment spending.

I’ve been curious how Oberlin is whethering the current economic storm. Either I’ve lost my Google skills or Oberlin is being notatbly tight-lippeed on their website. I do not expect a pretty picture.

Oberlin no longer offers dining in houses with one exception.

Oberlin Dining

For a campus of 3500 undergrads and conservatory students, they have:

a) Two dining halls
b) One dining hall (lunch only)
c) One snack bar
d) Two coffee cart/coffee bars (science center and library)

The only house dining option is a buffet dining room serving (and note that I am quoting here) “traditional soul food cuisine” in the Afrikan Heritage House. This dining is only available on limited days.

Their entire dining operation is contracted out to Bon Appetite Management Company, which contracts the food services at the following colleges:

American University
Biola University
Case Western Reserve University
Dominican University of California
Emmanuel College
Goucher College
Hamilton College
Lesley University
Lewis & Clark College
Macalester College
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Mount St. Mary’s College
Northwestern College
Oberlin College
Reed College
Seattle University
St. Olaf College
University of Pennsylvania
University of Redlands
University of San Francisco
Washington University in St. Louis
Whitman College
Woodbury University

Generally, out-sourcing of dining management is implemented as a cost-saving move. There are pros and cons, but it unquestionably removes a liberal arts college one step away from managing its own undergraduate experience.

#17 Comment By kthomas On October 23, 2009 @ 1:33 pm

hwc: did I cite Oberlin as … ?

However, I think you may have missed parts of the situation:

http://www.oberlin.edu/resed/employment/prostaff/housing.html

The co-ops were not “co-ops” as at Williams; Williams does not really have co-ops, just senior apartments with common kitchens.

It looks like the number of co-ops has declined, that Asia / Village / some themes can plan meals, etc. Though it’s been close to a decade since I’ve been there, a core part of the system was that you could generally eat where you wished — a student living in “traditional housing” could use their card to eat at a co-op, and I believe in Village, etc; and students certainly had the ability to organize new options.

I also believe the co-ops were *cheaper* than the traditional plans, in general. (As a former head of dining services, I did have some interest).

The Gifford report cited employee benefits for Row House dining employees, and additional costs for students who would go down to the kitchens and prepare food, as the primary cost overruns. No data, but I’m inclined to wonder on the second, and if you looked at the raw figures… we’re speaking of a couple hundred dollars per student, per year. Charge a fee.

@David: the Gifford report included data on the figures you report. You seem to be assume a default where only the people in the Row Houses, eat in the Row Houses — (and event then!). The default should be that any student can eat in any house if that is convenient to them.

#18 Comment By Ken Thomas ’93 On October 23, 2009 @ 1:38 pm

Though, reading that again– OSCA operates NINE dining facilities.

#19 Comment By hwc On October 23, 2009 @ 1:44 pm

(Perhaps I am wrong on the facts and 50%, or whatever, of students in 1972 ate in row houses.)

There’s a semantic trap to watch out for. Technically, the Greylock and Mission Park dining halls were “row house” dining halls as both of those large dorm complexes were divided into four pseudo-row houses with (presumably) all the same quasi-frat trappings. Of course, the quasi-frat model can only pushed the limits of riduculous extremes and the notion that living in Mission Park could ever mimic frat house living was definitely at the outer limits of those extremes — especially in the orginal nuclear-fallout bomb shelter configuration of the dorm.

#20 Comment By Ken Thomas ’93 On October 23, 2009 @ 1:47 pm

David: two– OK three– quick points:

1) re: administration. The phrase “sophomore ghetto” came from the Dean’s Office. I heard students repeat it, but… there are complex factors (how many affiliation switches do you allow; do you allow seniors to switch with sophomores?). But I think you’re factually wrong.

2) re: Row House Dining. There’s a consideration of fact there, and a consideration of judgment and policy. I believe the Gifford report presents some data here– but how many people lived in the Row Houses in 1984? How many students who didn’t live there, also dined there?

3) How many of the sophomore class WANTED to live in Mission? How many of them did this because of class alliance– as opposed to wanting to have 5-7 friends together, and Mission was the only option? How many people would have preferred to affiliate with a larger group of friends from multiple entries? Even the Gifford Report thesis, that students bond into small social groups… well, the problem with the Gifford Committee, is right there. It took a contingency (people bonding into cliques) and wrote it into housing policy…

#21 Comment By hwc On October 23, 2009 @ 1:48 pm

I don’t believe that Oberlin operates the co-ops. In effect, they are off-campus housing options, where — of course — you can cook and eat in your own kitchen. I did it for half of my Wiliams experience.

#22 Comment By Ken Thomas ’93 On October 23, 2009 @ 1:49 pm

, the quasi-frat model can only pushed the limits of riduculous extremes and the notion that living in Mission Park could ever mimic frat house living was definitely at the outer limits of those extremes

I laughed at that. If you read the planning documents– they took that notion, oh-so-seriously. Nothing like believing your own…

#23 Comment By kthomas On October 23, 2009 @ 2:00 pm

hwc: But there’s a big difference between living as an individual above Goff’s and cooking in my own kitchen, and living in a building owned by the College, with 80 other students, with a dining operation organized by a student association nominally supported by the College, and where any other student of the College can, on any given night, drop by, show their ID, and eat.

#24 Comment By 1980 On October 23, 2009 @ 2:05 pm

In the late 70’s, you were assigned to a housing group (Mission, Greylock, Row Houses, Dodd, etc.) at the end of your freshman year when picking sophomore housing. We picked Mission because it was the only place all 6 of us could live together. I think you could go into Greylock in a group of 4 max.

If you were in Mission, you lived there all 3 years, Greylock the same: it was not the case that Mission was mostly sophomores and Greylock mostly juniors, although I know this did happen in the late 1980s. I am surprised to see the reference to a 1980 Record article that contradicts me on this – are you sure that date is correct? A lot of sophomores lived in Mills, and then spent junior year in their actual Mission house (Armstrong, Pratt or Dennett) – Mills was sort of overflow housing. I lived in Mission sophomore and junior year and don’t remember anybody moving out to Greylock. By senior year, nearly all of us who had lived in Mission moved off campus.

#25 Comment By 1980 On October 23, 2009 @ 2:08 pm

I remember the row house dining was very good. I don’t think you could just show up at one of row houses to eat though – I think you had to be invited by one of the row house residents. Maybe I’m wrong about this, but in any event I only ate at the row houses when invited by a friend.

#26 Comment By kthomas On October 23, 2009 @ 2:13 pm

1980: The Gifford Report is oddly unclear on that detail, as I remember. There is the distinct impression that the problem was that the Row House Kitchens were funded by the College, but used by the residents as their personal domains, thus, that the Row House Residents were effectively socially isolated…

#27 Comment By David On October 23, 2009 @ 2:13 pm

Ken: Precisely what aspect of this am I “factually wrong” about? I am eager to get this history recorded accurately. I have no doubt that people referred to Mission as a “sophomore ghetto.” So what?

1980: It was similar in the 80s. You could express a preference for a group (like Greylock) but not a specific house. Once you were assigned to Carter, that is where you stayed for three years, unless you went through an uncommonly used transfer system. The Record articles are good, but not completely accurate.

We picked Mission because it was the only place all 6 of us could live together. I think you could go into Greylock in a group of 4 max.

That had changed that by spring 1985. The max was 4 and it was constant across groups. (I recall that clearly.) Did it really vary by location in your era? Perhaps that was a conscious attempt to make Mission more popular?

By my time, Mission was far and away the least popular. I did not know anyone who ended up in Mission who had not ranked Greylock higher. (Main preference was for singles.) Dodd and Row Houses had their fans as well.

#28 Comment By hwc On October 23, 2009 @ 2:43 pm

I can’t answer the question about number of diners, but here is the current room capacity of the tradtional row houses at Willims. This is a total of 216 beds.

34 Tyler
25 Spencer
30 Agard
41 Garfield
28 Perry
30 Wood
28 Brooks

Two additional “houses” came on-line in the early 1970s. Dodd House was the old Treadway Williams Inn which became a dorm with a dining hall. I think this was initially a woman’s “house”, but I could be wrong. Tyler House is a modern cinder block dorm that came on line in 1972 adjacent to Tyler House. If you want to count that, the capacity of “houses” increases by 90 with these two new additions in the early 1970s.

50 Dodd
40 Tyler Annex

Note that freshmen were not affiliated with houses and did not eat there except for a special welcome dinner in the spring to the best of my recollection. I think that sophmores were allowed to eat Sunday brunch and a guest dinner each week in their row house.

One of the issues that has confounded Williams’ romantic notion of the “house system” is that the house system was never intended to accommodate the much larger size of the college. I don’t have the exact numbers, but, at the start of coedducation in 1971, Willisms was only 1200 to 1400 students, probably 1000 to 1200 when fraternities were abolished. The construction of “modern” dorms and dining halls (Greylock, Mission, Prospect, Driscoll) changed the scale of the college in a way that simply was incongruous with the old models.

#29 Comment By hwc On October 23, 2009 @ 2:50 pm

But there’s a big difference between living as an individual above Goff’s and cooking in my own kitchen, and living in a building owned by the College, with 80 other students, with a dining operation organized by a student association nominally supported by the College, and where any other student of the College can, on any given night, drop by, show their ID, and eat.

I don’t believe that’s the case anymore. Oberlin is not involved in the co-ops in any fashion. They don’t even do the billing. I’m trying to be polite, but Oberlin has been “broke” for a number of years. As most colleges that are out of equilibrium, Oberlin has slashed student services, often by outsourcing them.

Dining halls are the first to go.

BTW, I never lived over GOFFs. Most of the time, I lived in a large house with five or six friends and we shopped and cooked as our own “co-op”. This was quite common at Williams at the time. There were several houses full of students in various places. Water Street. Cole Ave.

#30 Comment By 1980 On October 23, 2009 @ 2:51 pm

I do recall that the max group size varied, with Mission the only option for a big group. We were all happy enough to live there. Greylock was a more desirable place to live but our group would have had to split up into two. Dodd was a very popular place to live in my day – great rooms, some with fire places, good dining hall.

#31 Comment By hwc On October 23, 2009 @ 3:02 pm

The Gifford Report is oddly unclear on that detail, as I remember. There is the distinct impression that the problem was that the Row House Kitchens were funded by the College, but used by the residents as their personal domains, thus, that the Row House Residents were effectively socially isolated…

Don must have been enjoying a fine Guinness Stout if he actually believed that. The row houses hosted the “frat parties” in the 1970s, just as they had done in the 60s and 50s and 40s and 30s. Probably with the same proprietary drink recipes that Messirs Swart and Ubile have described for us. The row houses were never “socially isolated”. They were the social center of the campus.

The issue was that a signficant percentage of the students were GDI-types and wanted nothing to do with the row houses. I went to mine for Sunday brunch every week as a sophmore because having a chef make me an omlette to eat while reading tne New York Times and watching football worth the walk. I never set foot in a party there. My wife never set foot in a party there and nobody I know from Williams ever set foot in the row house parties. If we had wanted that kind of social scene, we would have gone to Amherst or some other school with fraterinies. The fact that Williams had banned frats was a positive feature/benefit in selling Williams and those of us who chose Williams specifically for that reason had no interest in quasi-frats.

Why the Williams administrators keep trying to impose a bizarre psuedo-frat model on the campus is beyond me. If they want frats, then bring back frats. Problem solved.

#32 Comment By kthomas On October 23, 2009 @ 3:28 pm

hwc:

GOFFs: that was me :), and I remember your previous comments.

Gifford: I’m not sure that was Giff’s position. The idea (in brief, as I remember it) was that the Row House people lived and dined together somewhat “exclusively” and contributed to a College which was socially fragmented. Honestly, nothing I can say about the situation of “frat parties” compares to your reporting of the situation…

Oberlin: I’m not trying to be oppositional, and would prefer not. The web page I refer to says that RAs/VAs/HLECs live throughout all parts of the Oberlin housing system, making the Co-Ops/Village/etc part of Oberlin’s College Housing, and that is my recollection. My recollection was also that the Co-Ops are particularly cheaper to operate. Oberlin’s financial balance is not anything I can speak about.(*) Has any of this changed?

(*) If Dodd/Driscoll are truly on the line, I’m certainly, however, going to speak up and say their may be other options and other arrangements beyond the obvious.

#33 Comment By hwc On October 23, 2009 @ 3:50 pm

I’m only talking from a financial standpoint. Oberlin has nothing to do with the co-ops at this point in time. They advertise the co-ops as part of Oberlin, but I always like to follow the money!

I don’t know exactly when Oberlin’s financial troubles started. They are the classic example of diluting their endowment with enrollment growth and suddenly realizing that they can no longer afford to keep up with the Jones. Part of their fianancial recovery plan (this predates the market crash) was to shrink the size of the student body (and therefore bolster the per student endowment).

In any case, I agree with David that the dining issue is somewhat tangential to the housing situation at Williams.

An interesting question is: Now what? How do they unwind this whole cluster housing disaster? I am convinced that it will happen sooner rather than later because there are some budget savings to be had. I’m thinking they start “backdooring” the decision with some housing lottery rules changes that effectively gut the cluster housing plan and restore de facto free agency. I think those changes could start as early as the spring lottery.

Williams has terrific housing and dining, BTW. The College should stop trying to re-engineer it to address perceived problems. If they perceive problems, then deal with those directly instead of screwing up the housing system and making the original problems worse for more students.

#34 Comment By kthomas On October 23, 2009 @ 3:56 pm

hwc: Gotcha. I certainly don’t know the $ arrangements unless you tell me more.

In the Williams situation– it’s hard to find an objective thought in my head, and be sure of it. Williams has a great housing and dining system. I’m not entirely a fan of free agency; I’m not entirely a fan of regulation and housing systems; I sure know that Williams has caused more headaches …

But my idea would be typically that of a Deep Springer: as much as you can, hand the task and the responsibility to those most impacted– the students. Let them design their own systems (with a little help and some constraints), and they will do far better than you or I.

#35 Comment By Parent ’12 On October 23, 2009 @ 4:00 pm

hwc- I wonder about the “unwinding” too, if it were to occur.

I’m asking for pure speculation. If the housing lottery returned to whatever it was just before the Neighborhood constraints, would certain types of students end up where they ended up before.

For example, as I recall the Quad by Driscoll tended to have a particular type of student. Would that type of student naturally or automatically want to be in that Quad.

And, has the campus population changed over the past 4 years so that the distribution of student types is different now.

#36 Comment By hwc On October 23, 2009 @ 4:01 pm

Gifford: I’m not sure that was Giff’s position. The idea (in brief, as I remember it) was that the Row House people lived and dined together somewhat “exclusively” and contributed to a College which was socially fragmented.

OK. that makes sense. And, I would agree with Gifford in that case. For all intents and purposes, Gifford was describing the same social fragmentation that launched Morty on his cluster housing kick to start with.

This new Neighborhood Housing report outlines the social fault line in pretty stark terms:

White
Male
Athelete
Heavy Drinking

—-

Non-white
Female
Non-athlete
Non Heavy Drinking

It’s the same fault line that has appeared in every other report — the report on Diversity, the report on Alcohol, the report on Athletics. The sad irony is that the below-the-line group is significantly larger in numbers than the above the line group, but they keep bearing the brunt of these social-engineering efforts. One of these days, an administrator is going to wake up and say, ‘wait a minute, why don’t we leave the large below-the-line group alone and address the issue with the smaller above-the-line group? The tail keeps wagging the dog here. White, male, heavy-drinking athletes are a decided minority at Williams college (25% tops), yet they continue to be ID as one side of a fault line that causes friction.

#37 Comment By hwc On October 23, 2009 @ 4:08 pm

I’m asking for pure speculation. If the housing lottery returned to whatever it was just before the Neighborhood constraints, would certain types of students end up where they ended up before.

Yes. I think it would revert and revert as quickly as the lottery rules allowed or could be circumvented. Nothing has changed in the underlying issues that would keep the campus from naturally re-segregating. It is possible that the location of certain self-segregated cohorts might change. For example, if they kept Mission as first-year housing, then that would force some changes rippling through the system. But, there would be an Odd Quad somewhere. There would be dorms segregated along racial lines somewhere. There would be segregated enclaves of certain sports teams and heavy drinking — somewhere.

Housing systems are tricky things. They can be used to effect change, but I think it has to be done with tiny nudges. Housing systems also have to be in synch with the underlying campus culture — which is why Morty’s cluster housing scheme was destined to fail. He needed to address the underlying culture first, then the housing could follow.

#38 Comment By ann wright On October 23, 2009 @ 7:35 pm

Tyler Annex…discuss…

#39 Comment By hwc On October 23, 2009 @ 9:31 pm

A rose by any other name…

From the house essays in the College yearbook (the Gulielmensian ), we can see that some of the houses were making a real effort to adjust to the new Williams social system, while some of the fraternities still refused to cooperate. The Garfield House essay begins:

With the advent of the first year of the “New Williams,” Delta Upsilons stepped into its new role without missing a stride. Under the awesome auspices of James A. Garfield House, it has succeeded in a way almost unique to any other house in integrating the old fraternity ideals with the new college realities. This year has witnessed the continuation and development of a strong and spirited sense of brotherhood, without the old “Greek” overtones. Each D.U.-Garf takes tremendous pride in being a member of the “Zoo,” a house which has shown its excellence in all phases of College life at Williams. ( Gulielmensian 1965)

Link to Williams history article on frats

In practice, the boys who wanted to be part of the quasi-frats gravitated to house-centric activties and those boys who didn’t avoided their row houses like the plague.