Last week, Samuel Jay Keyser talked about student conflict and read from Chapter 13 of his book, Mens et Mania. This week, Jay reads from Chapter 6: Housemaster, in which he details his experiences as the housemaster of MIT's Senior House. An excerpt from this chapter follows the recording.
I became housemaster of Senior House in 1981. Constantine Simonides was the one who offered me the job. Constantine later became a very close friend and advisor. You might not have predicted that if you had been a fly on the wall when he offered me the job. To put it bluntly, when I became housemaster at Senior House, the dormitory was functioning as a storm drain for the other MIT living groups. All of the difficult students were funneled there. These were students incapable of living harmoniously in the more normal dorms. These were the students who snatched fire extinguishers off the walls and ran down the corridors spraying their housemates' doors...
The position is a live-in arrangement, with the housemaster having an apartment located in the dormitory itself. My then wife, Margaret, and I had been residents for less than a week when we were visited by the house president. I remember what he looked like. He had the puffy look of an MIT anti-nerd, someone who worked very hard at his studies, didn't get enough sleep, ate too much pizza, and drank too much beer on the weekends. He had adopted the practiced mien of a hard-bitten leader of the working classes, namely, his fellow antinerds in Senior House. He had thick, black hair and a swarthy complexion. When he came into my apartment, I felt as if I were being boarded by a pirate.
After a few pleasantries--basically an exchange of names--he came straight to the point.
"Your job as housemaster," he said, "is to stay in this apartment and mind your own business. We'll let you know when we need your help."
"We?" I asked.
"The grease," he said. "The house grease."
This was the name for the Senior House government, all elected grease.
"What kind of help?" I asked.
"We may need you to run interference for us with them," and he jerked his head in a direction that I took to mean the rest of MIT. (This incident helped me begin to understand the role of hacking at MIT, but I'll save that for later as well.)
"I'll do my best to be fair," I said.
He gave me an odd look as if to say, "What the hell has that got to do with it?"