Housing selection a convoluted mess
It’s been a year now since I made my decision to attend the University of Massachusetts. I’ve had a great time so far; I’ve met a lot of fantastic people on the faculty, in my classes and in my residence hall, and I’m very glad I made the decision to study here. One big drawback, however, is that I’ve had to deal with a lot of things that don’t make sense – most of which, unsurprisingly, have something to do with Whitmore Administration Building. My prime target, however, is one I’ve had to deal with a lot over the past few weeks: Residential Life, or ResLife.
I understand signing up for anything here can be a hassle at best and a holy terror at worst, but signing up for a room assignment just takes the cake. You just know there is something fundamentally wrong with an application process when students are more confused by your SPIRE page than by forced harmonic oscillators and differential equations.
Let me see if I got this year’s process straight: we were assigned a lottery number that determined when we’re allowed to sign up for a housing appointment, which two weeks later determined when we’re allowed to sign up for rooms, which determined which rooms are available for us to select from.
We are randomly assigned a lottery number that determines when we are allowed to sign up for signing up for rooms that we may or may not be guaranteed to have next year. That makes complete sense. If ResLife was aiming for a crappy “Inception” remake, they did it right. Otherwise I don’t see the point of an application within an application within an application. Maybe the programmers setting this up are paid per line of code and they decided to pull a fast one on us.
Nevertheless, I kept my chin up and boldly attempted to make the best of the situation. I noticed I had enough credits to be a junior, which would qualify me for housing in the North Area Apartments. Still, given my past experiences with the housing signup, I decided to double-check with housing before I signed up for North. I sent them an email asking whether or not they considered me a junior for housing purposes. The responses I got were interesting, to say the least.
I first got an email from ResLife telling me that if I was a junior, I would be eligible to sign up for Junior/Senior housing in North. Brilliant, Watson! When I emailed them again asking them to actually answer my question, a different representative said that if I had over 57 credits I’d be eligible for junior/senior housing, without actually answering my question with a “yes” or a “no.”
So far I could be emailing myself for all the good it’s doing me. To make matters worse, I got a letter from ResLife several days after that said on the same page that sophomores both could and could not apply for housing in North, and directly contradicted the information on their website. After sending a third email, I was finally told that I was not eligible to apply, I was still considered a sophomore and that anyone who entered UMass in the Fall 2011 semester was a rising sophomore. By that time I had checked five different sources about my housing and got five different and mutually exclusive answers.
The most popular argument against doing anything about this mess is, well, what we have now works and we don’t have anything better to use. What really amazes me is this university has nothing better to do with its money than to keep employing the people that can come up with such a convoluted, illogical system.
Here’s an idea: let’s get rid of the three times redundant processes. Let us have everyone fill out their housing preference forms on SPIRE over a period of two weeks. No appointments, no deadlines, nothing, just indicate your top five or so picks for building and floor number and submit it sometime before the deadline. After the two-week application process closes, write an algorithm to assign housing by optimizing student preferences according to those lottery numbers we were assigned. That alone reduces this bureaucratic nightmare to a one-step process.
This isn’t a revolutionary idea. High schools use this method all the time to create optimal class schedules. Let’s have the Office of Information Technologies find a way to set this up. I know that’s a tall order from them, since their online move-in fell flat on its face all three times they tried it this year. Spire regularly bids this cruel world goodbye, and a fast wireless connection is rarer than a Rhodes Scholar in Kennedy Hall, but still – if they can’t do this right, there is not much they actually can do right.
The misinformation I ran into is just another symptom of the same basic issue. The red tape has bloated this system beyond belief and it needs restructuring from the bottom up. Once the whole problem with registration “Inception” has been resolved, all the relevant information about the room selection process should be reviewed and standardized, so all the sources actually agree with each other. The websites, the letters and the employees should all be providing the same correct information. The information should be correctly edited, so that it’s concise and informative – and the people that assist students in housing selection should be full-time workers, not underpaid students and interns.
If you are a UMass employee making a career out of helping and managing college students, and a freshman with nearly no administration or programming experience can come up with a better solution than you could with your hundreds of man-hours and thousands of dollars, you’re doing something wrong. Forget the housing section on SPIRE – let’s take the sacred cow out to pasture and come up with a practical and sensible solution.
Artur Wysoczanski is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction (4/11): The column erroneously referred to Residential Life as Residence Hall Association (RHA), a student organization that is not involved in the housing selection process.