The Department of Community Living has a problem with accountability.
Every year, Brandeis’ housing lottery claims new victims. The process is a stressful one, especially with the recent reduction in housing due to the demolition of the Castle. It would be natural to expect the Department of Community Living (DCL), which handles the housing selection process, to be especially careful this year—after all, more students than ever will be without on-campus housing, and finding off-campus housing has become an exercise in frustration as rent rates increase and more students squeeze into the limited apartments available.
DCL stepped up to the plate, ready to bat.
They struck out.
The issue began on March 15, when senior housing lottery numbers were issued. Every rising senior received a number between 1 and 635, in accordance with DCL’s own publicly available policies on the subject. Rising juniors, also in accordance with DCL’s instructions, were given the next available numbers, up to 1382. Most students were satisfied with their number. Those who weren’t understood that everything had been done according to DCL guidelines and acted accordingly, with many rising juniors who expected a lower number pursuing off-campus housing.
The next day, DCL released an announcement that there had been a coding error in the lottery system. DCL claimed that, despite what was in their own guidelines, they had never intended for seniors and juniors to have different lottery numbers, and that they would rerun all the numbers by noon the next day. They broke that promise, too; numbers weren’t released until almost 4 p.m. on March 16, and the numbers were not rerun at all. Instead, DCL essentially doubled every senior’s number and stuck junior numbers into the gaps, ruining hundreds of housing plans and reversing a policy that many students had planned the following year around.
The consequences of this change were widespread. This year was already a bad one for housing, especially for rising seniors. With the demolition of the castle, rising sophomores will have to choose other housing, much of which was previously reserved for upperclassmen use. This is most noticeable in the Charles River apartments, also known as Grad. Previously available only to upperclassmen, a large portion of these apartments have now been partitioned off for sophomores exclusively, leaving seniors who would have lived in Grad out in the cold.
Some seniors have financial aid that requires them to live on-campus to receive the full amount. Many of these seniors are now struggling to find juniors who will pull them in, an unenviable situation. Others who planned for on-campus housing, expecting better numbers, are now searching for off-campus housing far too late. Many will have to live further away or pay higher rates.
DCL issued an explanation, of sorts: “As you may know, we use a technology vendor to manage housing, inclusive of the assignment process. They have shared that our system of treating juniors and seniors with parity is challenging, since most universities use a system that prioritizes by class. Although we reiterated that we would not change our process, and confirmed that they could accommodate our unweighted process, they implemented code with their typical prioritization.” Tim Touchette, the Assistant Dean of Student Affairs, insists that this conveniently unnamed technology vendor is to blame for this fiasco.
My question, then, is whether a single person in the Department of Community Living bothered to read their own housing manual before the lottery numbers were issued. Someone must have, at least in order to write it, surely?
Apparently not. Part of DCL’s apology letter stated that, “Unfortunately, the system also automatically populates the instructions page of the website. While we received a draft that accurately represented our process, what was put into place caused the website to be quite different.”
DCL doesn’t manage the housing lottery. DCL doesn’t write the instructions. DCL isn’t to blame for any of this! Look somewhere else!
Ridiculous. The Department of Community Living has one job: to manage the housing of Brandeis’ student population. Why are they outsourcing all their responsibilities? Why did hundreds of students read DCL’s housing manual when the department’s own employees apparently couldn’t be bothered to read it themselves?
DCL’s emails attempted to preempt questions with a simple instruction: “If you have questions, your best first step is to take a look at the Room Selection page on the DCL website.” This website has since changed. If a reader were to check it now, they would find a clear statement that rising juniors and seniors will, together, receive random numbers between 1 and 1382.
A look at a preserved copy of the original instructions, however—which, for the record, have since been removed and can longer be officially viewed—state that, “Rising seniors will receive #s 1-635, rising juniors will receive #s 636-1382.” I find it almost impossible to believe that not a single member of the Department of Community Living read their own rooming instructions, especially since that is, obviously, a part of the job for which they are paid.
Many students question the actual reason for this reassignment. One rising senior explained that the “junior class, their parents and a bunch of donors flipped out when numbers came out … and they quickly reversed course.” There are a number of similar whispers moving around the Brandeis campus, claiming that DCL knew exactly what they were doing when they issued priority numbers to seniors and then retracted their policy under pressure from the upset parents of juniors.
Whatever the case, DCL needs to learn actual accountability. That doesn’t mean blaming the issue on a technology vendor that they decided to outsource to and then apologizing for other’s mistakes. They made the decision to rely on a third party for the housing lottery. They made the decision to have a computer write the housing instructions for their most important duty, the distribution of housing. They made the decision to refrain from checking their own work.
No one has mentioned any consequences for the department, but that’s OK. Brandeis’ seniors will, apparently, bear DCL’s karmic load.