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LAST week, two freshmen presented a petition protesting the College's new housing lottery process, and convinced more than 1200 of their fellow classmates to sign it. The Undergraduate Council agreed to back the petition and pay for all costs of producing it.
Two days later, Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett '57 and the house masters indicated that they would not pay attention to the petition, and would go ahead with the lottery proposal this year as "an experiment."
The fact that administrators were unwilling to hear students' opinion on this subject is certainly disturbing. They should have agreed to sit down with freshmen and work out the problems with the proposal, particularly in the face of such overwhelming student dissatisfaction.
But there is definitely an argument to be made that the petition did not actually reflect student opinion, since it stated the plan incorrectly. Freshmen signed the petition under the misimpression that it represented the true lottery plan, and no one on the Undergraduate Council bothered to correct the mistakes before the document reached administrators' desks.
UNDER the new lottery system, eight of the 12 undergraduate houses will reserve 25 percent of their space for randomly assigned freshmen. The lottery will proceed in the same manner as it has in past years--except that freshmen will not know their numbers when they pick their top three choices. Because only eight of the houses have agreed to participate in the new plan, about 17 to 25 percent of freshmen will be assigned randomly, some to houses that have normally been filled on the first round of choices. In past years, usually 10 to 15 percent of freshmen were assigned randomly.
The freshman petition states that the new lottery plan will automatically relegate 25 percent of freshmen to random assignment, rather than recognizing that some houses will reserve 25 percent of their space. It vehemently charges that "it is unjust to randomly assign Houses to some students," when, in fact, Harvard has always done so.
Clearly, the new lottery system is a confusing one and the actual effects of the change have been difficult to determine. Admittedly, The Crimson was the first to misstate the new proposal, though the plan was correctly reported in all subsequent articles, which appeared on four consecutive days last week. This initial mistake has unquestionably misinformed a great deal of the subsequent debate.
BUT anyone responsible for representing more than three-quarters of the freshman class to the College administration should have taken greater care to get the facts of the case right. The factually incorrect petition allowed administrators an excuse to refuse to read it, since freshmen clearly did not understand the new lottery proposal.
While it is disturbing that none of the masters or administrators bothered to correct the rumors being circulated about the lottery, the blame for allowing the misimpression to interfere with the success of student protest must ultimately lie with those who wrote and backed the petition.
The petition's organizers should have made sure they fully understood the provisions of the new lottery plan before attempting to explain it to their freshmen signers. But it is nothing less than irresponsible for the council not to make any effort to correct the mistake before furthering the document, particularly when council members sit on the student-administrator committee which debated the masters' plan with Jewett. To have failed to do so was a grave disservice to the freshmen who signed the petition in good faith, and an embarrassment to a council which claims to be actively representing student interests.
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