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The Housing Lottery: Compassion and Consistency Clash
paul pascuicco 10 contributing writer
April 22, 2009

Last year, after observing the number of student complaints over the housing system, Dean of Students Toby Emerson and his team dramatically changed the process. Stung by accusations flung by students and parents over the unfairness of the system, the deans worked to randomize the selection process, replacing the previous system of accommodation with an arbitrary but equitable alternative. With complete fairness, there could be no complaints––no outcry over inequity.

While total equality is a worthy goal, it is completely unattainable. Inevitably, this system just shifts the blame from the Dean of Students office to the number system. And manipulation remains, as the deans reserve the right to designate dorm rooms for new students and to move students based on diverse criteria.

This new system is consistent but not compassionate. In their quest for fairness, the deans threw out an old system that treated all student choices equally and tried to sort out the best combination of desires to determine who went where.

With the new system, roughly half of students receive their first or second choices, while others are placed in their last choice dorm simply because of number choice. Additionally, since only one housing partner is allowed per person, the new system jeopardizes chances of being with one’s friends, increasing the premium put on certain dorms.

The dean’s move is understandable, as it became increasingly hard to justify to complaining students their reasoning as it often involved an arbitrary decision over students’ competing interests. Personally, I have done well with both systems. However, on my hall last year, Scaife 2, I felt as if the deans created a motley confluence of people who most likely wouldn’t have requested to live together. Under the new system, friend groups are increasingly fragmented and divided.

Instead of allowing the deans wider latitude, our complaints have forced them into a fair but less compassionate and arbitrary system.

Under the old system, students would (usually) be placed with friends or in the dorm of choice. By presenting the deans with more information––multiple friends one would live with, ideal dorm, previous year’s success in the lottery––the deans could form thoughtful dorms out of this calculus. Under the older system, more students were happy, rather than the limited number of very happy students under the new system.

I call upon Mr. Emerson to reinstate the old system. Don’t let the few loud complainers yell over the crowd of happy students. We as students also need to learn that our complaints are unnecessary and antagonize the same deans who painstakingly sort out our competing desires.

There will be unhappy students under any system. Let’s return to the system that makes the most number happy: the old one.