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Your article of Friday, Sept. 20, was accurate insofar as it called attention to some of the shortcomings of the lottery system. Accurate, but incomplete.
It is my understanding that giant state schools like the University of Michigan are compelled to lottery students into classes. To my surprise, Harvard also retains its own lottery.
The lottery, as a method of class selection, is anti-intellectual and anti-educational. It rewards neither interest in the course material nor background in the discipline nor intelligent academic planning. Instead, the only real prerequisite to getting into a lotteried class is the ability to sign the "entry form."
Indeed, the lottery's incentive system is geared toward those students who are least interested or least qualified to take the course. Standing outside an overflowed classroom early in shopping week, craning my neck to hear the professor's lecture, I was appalled to hear the deliberately loud discussion between two seniors a few feet away. Both were commenting that they were sure to be admitted to the class because they were in their last year and had not yet fulfilled their Core Requirement; both were also openly disinterested in the course material and were glad that they "probably wouldn't have to do much work."
According to the lottery of that class, they both got seats. I did not. First-years like me, most of whom were desperate to learn that material from that professor, were forced to defer to the passing curiosity of some upperclass students. While something is to be said for an upperclass student's "last shot at taking a class," genuine interest in a course must outweigh seniority.
More astonishing, perhaps, than the discrimination against young students is the lottery restriction against those upperclass students who have already satisfied the Core requirement. Such students got the same marginal priority as first-years in this particular lottery. The College, it seems, penalizes those students who enroll in classes for pleasure.
The lottery has the educational merit of corporal punishment. It must be abolished outright and replaced with another method, perhaps a method as cumbersome as written application. This is, after all, Harvard, not the University of Michigan. --Michael Fertik '00
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