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Co-operative Living at Stanford

A Report of SWOPSI 146

May 1990


This report resulted from the hard work of the students of a Stanford Workshops on Political and Social Issues (SWOPSI) class called “Cooperative Living and the Current Crisis at Stanford.” Both instructors and students worked assiduously during Winter quarter 1990 researching and writing the various sections of this report. The success of the class’s actions at Stanford and of this report resulted from blending academics and activism (a fun but time-consuming combination).

Contributing to this report were:

Paul Baer (instructor)

Chris Balz

Natalie Beerer

Tom Boellstorff

Scott Braun

Liz Cook

Joanna Davidson (instructor)

Yelena Ginzburg

John Hagan

Maggie Harrison

Alan Haynie

Madeline Larsen (instructor)

Dave Nichols

Sarah Otto

Ethan Pride

Eric Rose (instructor)

Randy Schutt

Eric Schwitzgebel

Raquel Stote

Jim Welch

Michael Wooding

Bruce Wooster


There are many people who contributed to this final report and the resolution of the Co-op crisis. Although we would like to mention everyone by name, it might double the length of this entire document. Our everlasting thanks go out to everyone who contributed. Especially Leland Stanford for having his co-operative vision, the SWOPSI Office for carrying it on and providing the opportunity for this class to happen, Henry Levin, our faculty sponsor for his help with the proposal process, Lee Altenberg, whose tremendous knowledge of Stanford co-operative lore is exceeded only by his boundless passion for the co-ops themselves; the Co-op Alumni network, the folks at the Davis, Berkeley, and Cornell co-ops, NASCO, and all of the existing Stanford co-ops for their support during this entire process. For special help with the house histories we would like to thank Susan Larsen, Sam Sandmire and Chuck Spolyar, Duane, Arvind Khilnani, Magic House, and all of the other co-op alums for their stories and contacts. Thanks go to Norm Robinson, Jim Lyons, Keith Guy, Charlotte Strem, Larry Horton, the Row office and Res. Ed. For the wonderful cover, we thank Irene Stapleford. We’re grateful to Eudaemonia house for their community, space, and food. To everyone who wrote a letter or signed a petition or filled out a survey, you contributed to what Bob Hamrdla called “the blitz”, thanks. AND and extra special thanks go to “Jack and Diana, two administrators, doing the best that they can....”

Table of Contents

Summary i

I. Overview 1

II. Co-operation 3

Theories, Models and Issues Concerning Cooperation 3

What is Co-operation? 3

Five Kinds of Companies Cooperative in the Narrow Sense 4

Principles of Co-operation 5

Notes on Community, Cooperation, and Sustainable Living 7

Leland Stanford’s Ideas on Cooperation 7

Residential Education and Cooperative Ideals 8

The Co-operative Houses at Stanford 11

Goals of Residential Education Embodied in Co-ops 11

The Co-op / Res-Ed Relationship 12

III. Background 13

Current Campus Residential Co-ops 13

The Stanford Residential Co-op Timeline 13

Co-op Vacancy Statistics: 1980-89 14

Columbae House 14

Hammarskjöld House 18

Kairos House 20

Phi Psi House 22

Synergy House 25

Terra House 31

Theta Chi 33

Defunct Residential Stanford Co-operatives 35

Walter Thompson Co-operative 35

Jordan House 35

Androgyny House (aka Simone de Beauvoir) 36

Ecology House 36

Other Co-operative Institutions at Stanford 37

The Co-op Council 37

The Co-op Alumni Network 37

Non-residential Stanford Co-ops 37

The Kosher Eating Co-op 38

Stanford Federal Credit Union 38

Co-ops in the Community 39

Residential Co-ops at Other Universities 39

Introduction 39

UC Berkeley 40

Harvard 40

Cornell 40

Madison 42

Brown University 42

UC Davis 42

Conclusion: Implications for the Stanford Co-ops 44

Survey of Stanford Co-op Alumni 49

IV. The Current Crisis 57

Chronology of the PostQuake Events 57

Effects of and Concerns about Closing Synergy, Columbae

, and Phi Psi Coops 61

The Structure of Decision Making 64

V. Recommendations and Alternatives 66

Introduction 66

Recommendations of the Class 66

Repair of Buildings 66

Changes in Co-op Programs This Year 71

The Co-op Union 73

Ethnic and Cultural Diversity 75

Options for the Future 77

Co-op Office 77

Co-op Contract with the University 78

Resident Fellows 80

A Separate Co-op Housing Draw 81

Future Coop Buildings 81

Outreach to Other Co-opers 86

For Further Reference 88

Appendix 90



As a result of the October 17, 1989 earthquake, three Stanford residential co-ops were closed indefinitely due to structural damage. A group of co-op community members formed to monitor the administrative process as it made crucial decisions regarding the future of the displaced communities and to rally for their successful continuation. Several of them designed a SWOPSI (Stanford Workshop on Political and Social Issues) class called “Co-operative Living and the Current Crisis at Stanford” and taught it during Winter Quarter, 1990.

The uncertainty of the aftermath of the earthquake made it imperative that the co-op community take an active role in the University decision-making process. It is only through the joint efforts of the administration and concerned students that mutually satisfactory decisions are made. The “Co-operative Living and the Current Crisis at Stanford” class filled this role by providing a forum for co-op community members to actively participate and by researching co-operation and how it relates to Stanford University.

The changes forced by the crisis of the earthquake made it necessary to analyze the Stanford University residential co-ops. It also provided an opportunity to re-evaluate them. Although Stanford co-op community members tend to be very satisfied with their residence experiences, the members of the Co-operative Living at Stanford class felt that an in-depth look at further potentials was appropriate. The class produced the following report based on their research. The report includes background research regarding co-operation and the Stanford community. It then treats the nature of the current crisis. Finally, it recommends specific developments for the future and presents other possibilities for the future that the class did not come to consensus on.

Since the commencement of the class, the Stanford Administration has committed to repair one house, Columbae, and allow its displaced co-op community to return there in the 1990-91 academic year. The Administration has also committed to temporarily rehousing the other two displaced co-op communities (putting Phi Psi in the Alpha Delt House and Synergy in the Grove Houses), and to repairing their damaged houses by an unspecified time no earlier than 1991-92. The students of SWOPSI 146 believe that they have had an important role in the process that led to these decisions and hope the University administration will continue to value their concerns and input.


The concept of co-operative living is hardly new. Indeed, most people across the world live in some type of co-operative housing (for instance, in a nuclear- or extended-family home). At Stanford, however, the very word ‘co-op’ conjures up images of extremism and deviance. This occurs in spite of the fact that Leland Stanford himself was a strong advocate of co-operative associations and considered the co-operation of labor to be, in general, a leading feature lying at the foundations of the University. The present co-operative movement is not directly connected with Stanford’s vision, but with the student movements of the 1960’s. While this period was a formative one for co-operation at Stanford, the Stanford co-operatives must transcend this pigeonhole and affirm those characteristics of cooperative living from which all students can learn and which further the goals of Residential Education.

The co-operative community at Stanford is remarkable in its diversity, and there exists no unified manifesto of purpose for members of the community. There do, however, seem to be some ideals shared by many of the co-operatives. These co-ops strive to blur the distinction between school and home, between mental and physical labor, between the personal and the political. Consonant with this ideal is the emphasis placed on limiting environmental impact and rejecting the opposition between “nature” and human society. Co-ops also act to encourage co-operation as a viable and fulfilling alternative to competition, and serve as a forum where methods of co-operation can be explored.

Lastly, co-operatives take many of the goals of Residential Education and apply them within the framework of the house itself. Thus, goals like social awareness and involvement, individual responsibility, and tolerance are not imposed by Res Ed, but are intrinsic to the ideals of co-operation itself. Co-operation can be a way of life which, while aware of its own history and origins, looks forward and works to create tangible change. It forms, we believe, an indispensable part of a Stanford education.


Seven residential co-ops operated at Stanford prior to the earthquake in 1989. Through extensive research, we explored their unique characters and spirits. Each house has special features that make it unique structurally, and to some extent this affects the student population.

Columbae House still maintains its original theme of Social Change Through Nonviolence — a theme that has included ideas such as vegetarianism, consensus decision-making, and recycling. Columbae comes from a tradition of political activity, which varies from year to year, and the house generally focuses on building a tightly-knit community. The house has an extensive co-op library and archives.

Phi Psi House has a long tradition of “good living” which encompasses the large house and yard, and has in the past included traditions of house bands and wild parties. The house is considered less political than other co-ops on campus.

Hammarskjöld House was created to foster “International Understanding”, and in order to further this goal has a separate draw which is more self-selective (to insure a geographically and culturally diverse group). The small house has many Eating Associates.

Kairos House draws a more “mainstream” group. Decisions are made by majority vote rather than consensus and it is the only co-op that hires students from the house to cook. Kairos has maintained independence from the other coops in the past, and only recently was officially listed as a co-op in the draw book.

Terra, once Ecology House, has become a more “mainstream” co-op in the 1980’s. It was nearly closed by the administration after relatively unsuccessful Draw seasons, but has survived and thrived since then. It is located in a large Cowell-cluster house. Terra has several interesting murals.

Synergy House, originally created with the theme “Exploring Alternatives”, which included alternative energy, organization (non-hierarchical), and sometimes vegetarianism. The house has a large garden and keeps chickens in the back yard for eggs. Also, the house boasts a large “Alternative Periodicals Rack” as well as many murals. Synergy residents tend to feel relatively detached from mainstream Stanford University life.

Theta Chi is organized around the idea of self-control — the house is owned by the co-op (technically its fraternity alumni group), and repairs, improvements, and all aspects of house managing are done by students. The house is known for having many singles and is close to campus (as well as being cheaper both for rent and food), a characteristic that usually brings in a diverse crowd. Theta Chi stays open all year round, and in the past has been a haven for groups seeking escape from University red tape.

Synergy and Columbae tend to stay away from processed foods and run non-hierarchically. Many students mistakenly associate these traits with all co-ops, an attitude that residents have attempted to change through outreach. In fact, the survey conducted as a part of the class discovered that some students thought a co-op (Synergy, I suppose) had a goat!

Several co-ops previously existed at Stanford, but are now defunct. Jordan House (now Haus Mitt) was started in 1970. Little is known about the house other that the fact that it had a few murals (some from Alice in Wonderland, and a Rolling Stones tongue on the door). Apparently the food was bad, and the house was unclean. In 1977 it was terminated, and became Androgyny (or Simone de Beauvoir) House, a “theme” house focussing on feminism and gender issues. The house was not fully equipped until three weeks into the school year, and was mysteriously terminated after Winter Quarter of its first year, leading many people to suspect a conspiracy (Haus Mitt, which had been approved to become a theme house at the same time as Androgyny, was placed in Jordan the following year). Ecology House, an environmental theme house, started in 1971, it became Terra in 1973. The reason for the name-change and loss of academic theme is not known.

Stanford has many other co-ops on campus besides the seven residential co-ops. The Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) is a coop of all Stanford students. The Stanford Bookstore is owned co-operatively by the faculty. Breakers Eating Club is also a cooperative and recently Jewish students created a Kosher Eating Club in the Elliot Program Center.

In addition to University co-ops, there have been a number of co-op houses in the local community in which many current students or recent graduates live. These are usually transient (with a few exceptions). The Food Chain, a network of these houses, was started in 1978 so that food buying could be combined. Five or six houses would buy bulk food and have parties or potlucks together. The Food Chain lasted until about 1981. Magic was started in 1979, in order to explore “human ecology”. Members of Magic work to organize community projects (such as planting trees) and develop a larger community of people associated with Magic interested in service. A number of other spin-off co-ops once existed, but no longer do.

One of the most instructive aspects of the course has been the exploration of co-ops and co-op systems at other universities. For example, the co-operative association at UC Berkeley is a full corporation with 1500 members, owns and even builds its own co-ops. Most other co-op systems are smaller — University of Wisconsin (at Madison), Brown, and Harvard all have small-scale co-ops, usually two or three houses. Probably the most diverse co-op system is at UC Davis, which includes off-campus co-ops and newer houses constructed on campus (which are parts of different co-op organizations), as well as Baggins End, known as the “Domes”. There is a lot to learn from the ways students have set up co-op systems at other universities. This report includes names of people who know in-depth about co-op construction and funding.

The campus survey conducted as a part of the class sought to identify common ideas held about co-ops by different student populations. Many students believed the houses to be dirty, or felt that co-ops were too large a time commitment, or held extreme political views. Clearly there is a need for education about co-ops, especially among freshpeople.

The survey of Stanford co-op alumni was responded to by members of many co-ops, but especially Synergy and Columbae. The vast majority considered living in a co-op a positive experience. Many alumni explained the benefits they see in co-operative living. Their co-op experiences at Stanford influenced many alumni in their lives and professions after graduation.

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