Housing draw goes digital

Calhoun College students accustomed to filling out paper forms and monitoring a dry-erase whiteboard in their college common room will soon find the hectic process of room draw transferred to their computer screens, as Calhoun plans to launch a new rooming Web site this week.

The new Web site is part of a larger movement to shift campus-wide rooming procedures online. Currently, six colleges use their Web sites for some part of the rooming process, but Calhoun’s new resource will be the most extensive. While many administrators and students said they believe the transition will streamline the housing process and give students increased access to important information, some said they have reservations about the system, citing security risks, depersonalization of the process and an uncooperative attitude between residential colleges.

Students crowd around floor plans for a past room draw in the Pierson College common room. Calhoun College’s web-based room draw system will replace similar whiteboard-based draws, although not all residential college deans are enthusiastic about the idea.
Students crowd around floor plans for a past room draw in the Pierson College common room. Calhoun College’s web-based room draw system will replace similar whiteboard-based draws, although not all residential college deans are enthusiastic about the idea.

Five colleges — Saybrook, Trumbull, Berkeley, Morse and Timothy Dwight — currently provide rooming information on their Web sites, but their offerings are limited to rules, deadlines, a list of rooms, floor plans or a student forum.

The most innovative feature of Calhoun’s new site is an online “Whiteboard,” which allows students to signify early on in the process how large a suite they intend to live in, a procedure organizers likened to the Online Course Selection program. The Whiteboard will update immediatley, so Hounies can see which configurations they will have the best chance of receiving in the draw. The new site will also include a student forum, frequently asked questions and pictures of each suite, alongside comments from previous residents.

Before embarking on the project last year, Calhoun College Dean Stephen Lassonde made a proposal to the administration for funding to make the new site a template for other colleges to use, Lassonde said.

Associate Dean of Administrative Affairs John Meeske said the proposal was rejected, as he did not believe there would be much support for such a system.

“The folks at Calhoun were all gung-ho about it, but I had my suspicions about whether anyone else would be gung-ho about it, so I wasn’t optimistic it would be adopted by other colleges,” he said.

Meeske said that because the proposal was made over a year ago, he is unsure of some of the details of the plan. But he said he thinks that other deans were unreceptive to the idea of a common online system when he asked them about the proposal last year.

Lassonde said he thinks the expansion of the site will depend on its success in Calhoun.

“If it works out well, I think other people will hear about it and, if not demand it, request it and realize this will make their life easier,” he said.

Trumbull College currently offers forms, schedules, a list of rooms and notices online, but Dean Jasmina Besirevic Regan said the Calhoun system is “exactly what we are discussing right now.”

Regan said this year, Trumbull plans to update its Web site with the results of each housing draw in order to make the draw more efficient. Security breaches are the only possible downside of using the Internet for room draw, she said.

Timothy Dwight Rooming Committee Co-Chair Jon Ferrugia ’08 said he thinks a site like Calhoun’s could be useful, but fears the automation may cause the process to lose some of its flexibility and personalization.

“If colleges like Calhoun lead the way and use an easy system that could be easily duplicated, there’s no reason it shouldn’t be moved online,” he said. “Part of what TD’s philosophy is to have it be a human process. That’s one of the advantages of having residential colleges — to keep things from being impersonal. There’s definitely an advantage to an online system, but it’s also important not to get rid of the more informal aspects of housing draw.”

Discussions about the colleges adopting a standardized system for allocating housing have taken place, Meeske said, but have not made progress. While he said he thinks moving the systems online is a good thing, he believes the colleges will never adopt a uniform system.

“Each college tends to do its own thing and tends to feel very protective about what they’ve done — ‘Our system is the best system for our college and every other system is bad’ — which I think is a shame,” Meeske said. “The colleges are protective about their systems, and they don’t want anyone centrally telling them what to do.”

Lassonde said he believes an online system will increase accountability and fairness in housing draws. Previously, the college experienced problems with its whiteboard system, he said, as students would write false information on the board in order to trick their peers about the availability of rooms. With the online system, all students will have accurate information, Lassonde said.

Caitlin Clements ’10, who is in Calhoun, said she believes the online whiteboard will help to avoid unfavorable outcomes in the room draw.

“This way, people have an idea of what’s feasible and they are less likely to get screwed by a bad draw,” she said.

The Calhoun site was designed by Calhoun Rooming Committee member Eli Luberoff ’08 and Stephen Schwink ’08. Luberoff said he believes the rooming system will be increasingly automated in the coming years.

“I see no reason why every college shouldn’t, frankly,” Luberoff said. “It takes work to put this together, so it’s a question of if every college decides it’s worth the time, money and effort. I give it two to three years before everyone has something.”

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