Room draw numbers were reassigned to all Pomona students following alleged technical difficulties in the first room draw lottery.
Staff at the college’s Office of Campus Life said that the program that generates numbers failed to take into account students’ room draw number assignments from previous years.
According to Pomona’s housing director, Deanna Bos, the number generator is supposed to divide every class into three groups: the top third, middle third, and bottom third. The thirds are not mathematical exacts, but rather general approximations provided by a computer algorithm. The number-generating program should take into account students’ past room draw history, so that no student is in the same grouping in their class more than once.
However, four percent of the rising senior class fell into the bottom third two years in a row, and other students fell into groupings they had already been in in previous draws as well. After being made aware of this through numerous student calls and e-mails, Bos decided it was necessary to redo room draw.
Students in the rising sophomore class were upset that their numbers were recalculated, however, since they had no previous room draw history.
“For freshmen I think it’s a little ridiculous,” said Ari Filip PO ’12, whose number dropped from 594 to 723. “I feel like they really take care of their freshmen here and all the dorms on north campus are really nice, but sophomores are kind of swept under the rug.”
“In order to make sure we can start over with a clean slate with no problems embedded we’re going to redo everybody’s numbers,” said Bos. “If it’s unfair for one group, it’s unfair.”
However, when room draw numbers were recalculated Monday afternoon, some students also expressed concern that the second room draw list was not recalculated randomly and must have taken the first room draw list into consideration.
The program that calculates room draw numbers initially gives each student a random five, six, or seven digit number, which serves as a position holder. Students who are not competing in room draw are then flagged and removed from the process. Next, students without any room draw history are placed at random into sections within their class, while students with room draw history are placed into a section within their class in which they have not previously been placed. Within each section, students are then sorted based on their position holding number. After that official numbers are finally assigned to run in consecutive order.
In recalculating room draw numbers, Bos said it was decided not to reassign position-holding numbers to students because the problem occurred later in the process, when students were sorted into sections. She said this caused many students’ to have similar numbers on both lists, or to move up or down positions from list to list in groupings, even though the new section assignments were mostly a random process.
“In retrospect, I don’t know if this was the best choice,” Bos said. “If you completely redo it you don’t know what’s going to happen, so this is what we decided to do. I get that if I say I’m going to rerun the numbers it causes some confusion when people’s numbers don’t change that much. In my effort to make there be a little less impact on students, I may have made it worse.”
Zach Mirman PO ’11, who dropped from 375 to 586 in room draw, said he was not angry that the numbers were recalculated, but would have preferred if the school has started completely from scratch in reassigning numbers.
“The first draw was a mess up,” said Mirman. “If you don’t think of the first room draw as the real one, it wasn’t unfair that I dropped so much. It was just an emotional rollercoaster. I would have been a lot happier if they had completely started over from scratch and everybody had received a completely random new number.”
“I’m sad that this has happened and I know people who had high room draw numbers will be upset, but for people who have been in the bottom third multiple times, it is unfair if we don’t make this change,” said Bos.
This is the third year Pomona has used this program in order to calculate room draw numbers. During its first year trial, the program didn’t have history to look at and, during last year’s room draw cycle, similar problems occurred that were undetected. However, Bos said thatInformation Technology Services spent much of Monday morning running test programs and it looks as if the problem has been fixed for future years.
“As much as humanly possible, I can say I am confident that it is going to run exactly as it should run now,” Bos said.
Bos added that as far as she knows the rerunning of the program fixed the initial problems. She hasn’t received any contact from students who were incorrectly placed in a room draw section of their class since rerunning the program and students who she knew were misplaced the first time seem to have been reassigned correctly.
According to research conducted by The Student Life, there are at least five students who do not satisfy this condition. Doug Farquhar PO ’10 was number 481 in last year’s draw, number 318 in this year’s first draw, and number 228 in this year’s second draw, placing him in the bottom one-third of the class every single time.
Though the stated intention was to correct the error that landed many people in the bottom third twice, the mathematical imprecision of the groupings means that a few people still appear to have been placed in the bottom third multiple times. Rylan Stewart PO ’10, Minsoo Kim PO ’10, Jeffery Lin PO ’11, and Jaron Lee PO ’11, in addition to Farquhar, were in the bottom third last year, and are in the bottom third again on the current list. However, according to the Office of Campus Life, the size of the groupings may vary from year to year, and so students in the bottom third may not be in the bottom group.
Cassidy Lane PO ’11 said the school would be able to avoid problems and create a fairer system if they simply had a completely random room draw each year rather than take past history into consideration.
“I was in the middle third last year and I still got deferred housing, while people with room draw numbers below me got pulled up into friendship suites,” said Lane, who was slotted at number 493 in both lists this year. “Doing a completely random room draw seems like the only fair option because as soon as they try to make it fairer, it becomes less fair and you have the kind of situations you had this year.”
Lane said the system should be completely random: “When you manipulate the system you open it up to criticism from unhappy students.”
Bos said that she understands that reassigning room draw numbers would cause some backlash from students, but she said that this was the only way to ensure fairness. Students have expressed concern that the process and the new draw failed in that goal. Two open forums with the housing director and members of the campus life staff, one held on Wednesday and one on Thursday, were organized in response to student concerns.
— Alex Rudy and Rebecca Golden contributed to this article