Unify Registration Lotteries
Lotteries help determine who gets into many oversubscribed classes. Students who want to take management, physical education, and Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences Distribution classes must enter lotteries. Also, traditionally oversubscribed classes like Introduction to Experimental Biology (7.02) and Design and Manufacturing I (2.007) conduct special lotteries. Given how important they are, it is regrettable that they are not more organized and uniform.
The lotteries have different deadlines and varied formats. The deadline for the HASS-D lottery was moved to January 20 this year. However, the Sloan School of Management holds all of its lotteries in early December, well before the required date for pre-registration. Multiple dates make the system more confusing than it should be and make it difficult for students to choose their classes. All the lotteries should run on the same schedule, allowing people to pick all their classes at one time.
The HASS-D lottery schedule is far more reasonable than the schedule for the Sloan School lottery. Students who want to take management classes should not be penalized for not having their schedules fully mapped out by Dec. 17. There is no advantage, for students nor faculty, in having the makeup of all lotteried classes determined more than two weeks in advance of pre-registration day.
Other lottery systems also need to be overhauled. The physical education lottery is not currently available on the World Wide Web. Athena access is required to run the lottery program. It should be possible for students to enter all the electronic lotteries from a single location on the Web. This would speed up the registration process and make registration easier for students who aren't on campus. Students should also be able to view the results of all lottery from the web instead of having to sort through mail, execute programs on Athena, and check web pages.
The present lottery system also fails to address the standard problem that crops up every registration day: not everyone who pre-registers for a given class ends up taking it, even if he or she is lotteried into that class. As a result, even in oversubscribed classes with lotteries, there are spaces open after students complete their registration. There is no uniform system for assigning these remaining places in the class; the registrar's office generally leaves it up to the individual professor to approve students' requests to add the class.
This has unfortunate consequences. Students line up outside professors' offices and mob lecturers before class, hoping to be among the first to get their cards signed. The decision about which students get to take a class is often quite arbitrary - it all depends on which students are the fastest, luckiest, or pushiest. Many professors hold their own lotteries, which are often less organized and less fair than those held by the registrar's office. Finally, many professors don't even know how many slots are open in their classes. The current, careless system makes extra work for both students and faculty.
On registration day, students should be allowed to enter second-chance lotteries for oversubscribed classes. This lottery would allocate the spaces vacated by students who were lotteried into an oversubscribed class but who chose not to take it. These lotteries should be run by the registrar's office, to ensure that they are fair and uniform.
MIT's current system lottery is disorganized, difficult to use, and unfair. An integrated lottery system would go a long way toward eliminating the profound problems with the current, jury-rigged system.