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Multiple Choices


By John Rosenthal

FRESHMEN SUBMITTED their house choices yesterday. Or rather, their "choices." For as everyone knows, the three houses that most freshmen listed on their housing applications are hardly the three houses in which they would most like to spend the next three years. Rather, the three choices, especially for those 'shmen with high lottery numbers, are the houses where frosh think they have the best chance of finding open space.

Harvard administrators point to this phenomenon as a failing of the two-year-old lottery system that gives freshmen lottery numbers before requiring them to submit their house "choices." It is not. The fault does not lie in the lottery system but in the computer program that matches freshmen with houses.

This year's juniors and seniors groups and have the freshmen show up, in numerical order, in groups of 50 at Memorial Hall. There they would make their house choices based on the availability of room in each house. If a rooming group found that their true first choice house (say Eliot) was full, it could check out the capacity of other popular houses before "settling" for Mather or Cabot.

In other words, only the people who really wanted to live in Dunster or Mather would make it their second choice. Similarly, people who really want to live in Eliot would be able to make Winthrop or Kirkland their real second-choice. Unscientific polls by The Crimson would not be unnecessary; nobody would have to try to second-guess the popularity of a house. Nobody would list a house that was really his ninth choice as his second choice.

Many houses conduct rooming lotteries this way, and upperclassmen choose their rooms based on availability, rather than unreliable information or guessing games. But replicating this system on a College-wide scale would be too long and costly. Each house's rooming lottery lasts well into the night. Imagine what would happen with 12 times as many people involved.

THERE IS a feasible way to achieve this end, however. And doing so would take only a slight hitch in the computer program that can make or ruin a freshman's life in less than 13 seconds.

The program currently scans each rooming group and determines whether there is room in the first choice house listed on the application. If rooming group number 330 lists Lowell first and Lowell is full, rooming group 330 is bypassed until all other rooming groups have been went through a slightly different lottery process--they did not know their numbers before "choosing" their houses. But the three house names on their applications did not reflect their true choices either.

MANY PEOPLE before me have suggested that the ideal way to run the lottery would be to assign numbers to rooming scanned. The people in rooming group 330 know that if they list Adams as their second choice, it too will be full by the time everybody in the class has been consulted, and they will again be dropped to the bottom of the list. Instead, they list Dunster, in hopes that nobody listed Dunster as a "first choice house" and that space will be available when the program comes back to them.

The program should be altered, however, to allow freshmen to list all 13 houses in order of preference. The computer should then come to rooming group 330, see that although Lowell is full second-choice Adams still has space, and assign the roommates to that house. If Adams is full, consult the group's third, fourth, fifth choices, etc. until an open house is found.

Under this system, the people with the best numbers get the houses they want. That's only natural. The people with the best numbers get the best housing in any lottery system. That's why it's called a lottery. And certainly the people at the very bottom of the list will get screwed. But then again, the people at the bottom of the list always get screwed, no matter what system is used.

It is the people in the middle who would benefit most from this system, for it would put them in houses where they truly want to be, rather than in lodgings they chose in an effort to beat system.

But of course almost everybody is happy in the house they end up in anyway--even quadlings like me--so I guess none of this matters anyway.

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