Ditch Day made it hard to write an article this week, but here it is. Ditch Day is one of our oldest traditions, and this week Iím writing about our seven bastions of tradition. There are other schools with honor systems and other schools with demanding curricula, but there is no other school in the country with seven Houses quite like ours.
Preserving the student Houses should be one of our highest priorities as a student body, but weíve come dangerously close to jeopardizing the House system in the past few years. Digging in our heels and crossing our fingers isnít going to work forever. This week I ask, ďWhat is wrong with the House system?Ē
Iíve thought about this a lot during my years at Tech, and Iíve come to realize that all problems with the House system come from the beginning Ė rotation needs some serious work.
Most students think that there canít be much wrong with rotation because it has been doing fine for so long. However, the truth is that our present rotation system is a bastardization of the carefully crafted procedure of the past. Eric Tuttle put together a detailed study of the last time rotation was reinvented, and I encourage all students to read his work in Appendix C of the TURLI.
The biggest problem with rotation is that even if we wanted change, nobody knows enough about the process to change things. Every year, the IHC asks whether or not the picks procedure should be made public. I recently realized that some people understood this statement differently from me. I check yes not because I would like to see the names of each freshman and the order in which they are picked. Picks should still occur in a secret location and nobody should ever know whether they were a high pick or a low pick when they get into a House. All I would like to see is the rules for picks stated explicitly to the student body.
To borrow a slogan from the current ASCIT BoD, the first step to fixing anything is transparency. As long as rotation picks remain shrouded in secrecy, there will be major problems left unsolved. Even the BoC procedures are written out for everyone to see in the little t. There is no good reason rotation should be more secretive than the BoC.
I know I am not the only person who sees problems with rotation. There are many students on campus that complain about rotation and administrators always cite anonymous students when they speak against our traditions. I would never trade our current system for random assignment, but there are definitely some students on campus that would. As the number of students living off-campus grows, so too do these complaints.
We usually dismiss these people as anomalies; we say that the House system doesnít work for everyone, but that it is invaluable for the majority of students. We donít want to make things worse for everyone else just to help a couple students feel better, but there might be ways to help these students without making things worse for everyone else.
I always thought it was ridiculous that a freshman can be forced to live in a House he doesnít like while there is an upperclassman who would love to have that room. It is usually these unhappy freshmen that are complaining to administrators about traditions and reporting upperclassmen for hazing violations. Getting these students out of their Houses would go a long way towards preserving our system.
We shouldnít force a student to live somewhere he hates. Itís bad for the student, bad for the House, and bad for the entire House system. If we think the House system isnít for everyone, thereís no reason everyone has to participate. While Houses can always tolerate a few freshmen they might not have wanted, the system breaks down when a freshman hates the House heís in.
Perhaps freshmen could be allowed to rank fewer than four Houses and face the possibility of not being picked. Maybe freshmen should be allowed to move off during first term. We could even allow some IHC-approved room swaps between freshmen after picks. Maybe we could simply return to the old system of listing four Houses without number ranks Ė this would de-emphasize the freshman role in the process and would avoid setting freshmen up for disappointment.
Unfortunately, students would need to know what the rankings mean in order to make any informed changes to the ranking system, and that would require the picks procedure to be public. For that matter, freshmen canít really ďrank honestlyĒ when they donít know what the rankings mean.
Iím sure many students have ideas for how to improve rotation, but none of them will ever be implemented as long as the picks procedure is a secret. More and more students will just complain to the administration and the next time a big incident happens, the administration will feel justified in dismantling the House system. Administrators are listening, so the student body canít afford to just ignore the complaints of the minority. It is imperative that we try to fix as many of our own problems as we can. With rotation, the IHC isnít even giving us a chance.