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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Brandeis housing lottery system in desperate need of dramatic overhaul

Published: March 19, 2010
Section: Opinions

Housing selection was a key part of this past week for many students at Brandeis. Though I have only been through it once, I can report it is highly flawed. The system of lottery numbers, though equal, is in no way fair.

Why is it equal? Because of all the reasons used to call it fair. The lottery applies an element of randomness to the system. With this random system everyone has an equal chance at getting a desirable number.

Why is it not fair? It is not fair because there is no balance to the system that ensures that people who get undesirable numbers one year get desirable numbers later on. It is unfair because the same person could get Ridgewoods two years in a row while someone else could get relegated to Charles River or even off-campus two years in a row. Why in a system that so many people seem to think is fair does this happen? Fair would involve a balance so that the Department of Community Living does not disappoint anyone more than once. I don’t know about you, but I’d sooner change schools than live that far from campus.

Now it’s a standard lesson that life isn’t fair, but why is it that we all pay for the same Brandeis experience (some actually pay a lot more than others), and yet we don’t get the same experience. Some people get to live in paradise, while others are condemned to the inferno. Here are just a few ideas on a way to balance the system, because once you look at it in a multi-year perspective, you might just see how broken it is.

First idea, divide numbers into three categories: desirable, neutral and undesirable. Students would get one of each over their three years participating in the lottery. Students could plan to live off-campus the year they get a bad number and at least take some comfort in knowing that they have a better opportunity coming up—unless they decide they like off-campus housing. That way sophomores abandoned in 567 (might as well be China) can take comfort knowing that either the next year or senior year they will get a Ziv or a Ridgewood. Or if a sophomore gets access to a Village single or Rosenthal suite, they can prepare for the likely future of a Charles River or off-campus apartment.

The system is equal. We all have the same chance of a good number. But fair would be better because fair would result in a shared experience.