Computer glitch causes housing lottery confusion

The computer program that determines lottery numbers for the housing draw went haywire last week, causing confusion among the rising sophomore, junior and senior classes. The errors in the program left some groups out of the draw the first time around and then left unassigned lottery numbers in the draw in the second round. Student response to the errors has been mixed, with many students angry about the errors and others ecstatic, but most resigned to accepting the situation and moving forward.

The errors in the Office of Information Technology (OIT)-developed program are not new, but they have never been seen on the scale experienced last Thursday, said Norma Lopez, assistant dean of the College and the administrator in charge of the draw. Lopez made the decision to redo the draws for all three classes, instead of randomly inserting the missing groups into the original lottery order. “I think a lot of students would have wanted it to be that way,” Lopez said. “I thought it would be unfair, [though],” she said.

Although all student names were entered by OIT into the initial draw, an as of yet undetermined error in the program caused a number of students to be left out of the final list.

Lopez said there was no way for her to catch the errors in the program until students began calling her office to say they had not been included in the draw. After receiving the complaints, Lopez and Linda Brown, coordinator of Housing Services, verified the errors and Lopez made the decision to redraw. Lopez could not remember the exact number of students who had been left out of the lottery.

A similar error actually occurred in the second draw as well, but at least one student in each group that entered the draw received a pick, which maintained the integrity of the overall draft. Students within their individual groups, though, occasionally did not receive a pick number. Lopez said that all students now have lottery numbers; if they cannot retrieve them online, a problem that has been reported to the Dean’s office, they can contact Lopez or Brown.

“[OIT] thinks the problem is programmatic,” Lopez said, and not a data-entry error, such as duplicate social security numbers being entered into the system. OIT has a separate program which double-checks to make sure duplicate social security numbers are not entered into the lottery program, but in the past the program has not been 100 percent effective. In the co-op draw this year, some lottery numbers, such as the seventh pick, were left unassigned. This error, which also occurred in the second round of the main housing lottery, does not necessarily impact the lottery results because OIT can just eliminate the unassigned picks. Assigned picks then move up in the draw to fill the unassigned spaces. “The program assigned the first pick, for instance, but then skipped large chunks of picks,” Lopez said.

Lopez said the majority of complaints she has received have been angry comments from rising seniors. “I would say, yeah, they’ve been really angry,” Lopez said of students who have called her office. “It’s understandable.”

However, Lopez said, “they [students] aren’t any angrier for being at the bottom this year than they were last year.”

“At first, when questioning what housing would do with us, I laughed at the idea of being dead last,” said Hannah Harte ’04, whose group was left out of the initial draw and eventually ended up with the 54th pick. “Then, I had a euphoric moment when I contemplated being number one. . .yeah. . .but no. Redoing the draw was fine with me because I didn’t have number yet.” Harte said that she would not have opposed a system that randomly inserted her group into the initial lottery.

“My first pick was 13 and second was 127,” Francesca Marzullo ’06 said. “Obviously the situation sucks but I don’t really think of it as that big of a deal. I was ecstatic after the first pick but surprisingly not that bent out of shape about the second.” Marzullo did add that she might feel differently after the actual draw, when she actually finds out where she is living.

“I was pretty happy when I heard that the first picks were invalid,” Ian Barbash ’06 said. Barbash moved from the 109th pick to the 4th pick overall. “I also felt sorry for my friends who had gotten good picks the first time around, since they would probably move down.”

“One of the more stressful periods of the spring semester was made more so because of Housing’s error,” Barbash said. “However, throwing blame around will just make everyone bitter without resolving the problem.”

Lopez said one possible reason for the program’s errors may involve social security numbers being used for identification. When the registrar’s office moves from its current SIS platform (the program which selfreg and facsis are designed on) to PeopleSoft, students will be assigned separate ID numbers, which will hopefully solve the problem. However, Lopez said, OIT really has not figured out exactly what went wrong yet.