The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 32.0°F | Fair

After Dorm Lottery, Many Are Crowded

By Kristen Landino
ASSOCIATE NEWS EDITOR

Despite an increase in fraternity and independent living group pledges this year, the decrease in on-campus rooms caused by Baker House renovations and Tang Hall displacements has forced more crowding than in recent years.

Around 170 rooms have been crowded this year, a significant increase from the previous year, according to Phillip M. Bernard, program director of residential life. Twenty spaces were lost in Baker due to the renovations and 53 students previously living in Tang were placed back into the housing system, causing a more severe housing shortage than in previous years.

Initially, 25 students did not receive housing assignments in the lottery. However, all of these students had been assigned to a dormitory by 1 p.m. on Thursday.

“At the time the lottery was run, about 280 students had pledged FSLIGs, but 100 more have pledged since then, freeing up more spaces for students,” Bernard said.

Crowding of this magnitude is not uncommon in the MIT housing system. According to Bernard, record years of crowding saw more than 220 crowded rooms.

Dormitory lottery runs poorly

Housing assignments for the dormitory lottery this year were posted on the web a few hours after the expected time. Students choices were not optimized when run through the algorithm, and some received assignments as low as their sixth choice.

According to creator by Eliot Sabath-Levitt ’89, problems arose largely to the complexity of the data set.

“The distribution of the available population pool matched the distribution of spaces very poorly. This is supported by the fact that other runs of the algorithm with wider or more closely matched distributions produced better results more quickly. In broadest terms, this means that people didn’t choose to live in the spaces that were available in the numbers that were necessary to distribute assignments well,” Sabath-Levitt said.

“I’m not sure why there were problems with the lottery this year. Our test data gave us better results with last year’s parameters. When we ran the lottery live, it ran slower than it had in tests, and we didn’t have the time to vary the results a lot,” Bernard said.

Lack of time was another issue which hampered lottery optimization and increased dorm crowding. In past years, the administrators had three full days after bids were extended to run the lottery. This system allowed more freshmen to pledge fraternities before the lottery ran, thus decreasing the number of students inputted to the algorithm.

The decrease in time was largely due to schedule changes in Orientation.

Algorithm not source of problem

The new algorithm used in the lottery this year was sound, according to Bernard and Sabath-Levitt.

“As far as I am aware, there is no functional error in the code for this year’s lottery program,” said Sabath-Levitt.

Problems arose largely due to the administration’s unfamiliarity and the lack of testing with the system .

“The genetic algorithm used this year was a lot more advanced than previous year’s, I don’t think we used it to its capability. It was certainly better than the previous algorithm used. Hopefully, we will use the same type of algorithm to run the lottery next year, and that we learn from what happened this past year,” Bernard said.

Student creates second lottery

Freshmen dissatisfied with their housing assignments can visit a website created by Brian T. Sniffen ’00 designed to match up students wishing to swap rooms.

This “lottery” is done by hand and only accepts trades considered beneficial for both parties. Only suggestions are made; students are not obligated to make the trade if they do not wish to do so.

The alternative lottery takes into account how low your current dormitory was in your original preference list submitted to the dormitory lottery. In other words, students who got their sixth choice in the lottery are considered to be a priority.

Freshman can choose several dorms which they would prefer to live in and rank one of these choices first. Students can also specify whether they would prefer their roommate to be of the same gender.

The correction lottery can be found at <http://istari.mit.edu/ froshpref.>