WHILE THE TASK FORCE on College Life had good intentions in proposing a plan to randomly assign students to Houses before their freshman year, its suggestion has sadly missed the mark. The advantage of the present system is that it allows students to express their housing preferences and determines House assignments by an impartial lottery system. Not everyone ends up living where he or she would prefer, but most get one of their top choices. Any disappointment is spread in the fairest possible way.
The random assignment plan the Task Force advocates is unsatisfactory because it eliminates most student choice without solving any of the underlying problems of the housing system. Only when the suggested renovations at the Quad have been completed, shuttle-bus service expanded, and the Observatory Hill athletic complex made a reality will the Quad achieve de facto parity with the River in the minds of most students.
The reasoning behind the Yale-like "no-choice" plan seems to be that if no one has a say in housing assignments, then no one will be unhappy after the assignments have been made. But this assumes that students' feelings about the Houses have no rational basis and that there are no inherent qualitative differences between the Houses.
Some Houses clearly are more popular than others, and that will not change under a forced assignment plan. The Task Force argues that "each House would have more of a chance to start from the beginning as far as a reputation was concerned." This minor and superficial change--which may not materialize--could well be the plan's only positive consequence.
It is laudable to try to dispel inaccurate stereotypes about the Houses, and it would be good to make students happier about their House assignments. But free choice for students is also a positive good, and so is a degree of diversity among the Houses. Because the present system offers choice and maintains diversity, the Task Force's recommendation for a "no-choice" system should not be adopted. It is equally important, however, that the Faculty continue to work on improving the Quad Houses and constructing the Observatory Hill athletic complex, in an effort to make the Quad a more attractive alternative.