The Office of Residential Life and Learning (ORLL) sent an email to Tufts rising sophomores in the housing lottery notifying them that their housing selections had been cancelled due to a glitch in the system on March 28, scheduled to be the last day of housing selection. According to Joshua Hartman, the director of the ORLL, approximately 700 students were affected.
“We are aware of the issue with housing selection occurring today, March 28, 2019, for groups of two, three, four and those students selecting from individually available spaces on campus. In an effort to resolve the issue, we have the portal closed for the remainder of the day and will be canceling the housing choices made earlier in the day,” Angelic Sosa, the assistant director of housing operations, said in an email to the Daily.
Hartman echoed this information in an email to the Daily.
“Very quickly in the morning (within the first two hours of selection being open), we recognized that there was a technical issue that was having a significant impact on the selection process,” Hartman said.
Hartman noted that the technical issue came in three parts: Students were able to log in and select housing earlier than their assigned time, giving them an unfair advantage; students saw housing options that were not actually available to them; and students did not see options from which they could actually pick.
Sosa elaborated on the issues the lottery system experienced on March 28.
She explained that, after ensuring students have the best possible lottery number for their groups, selection times are assigned in increasing order.
“The issue that arose was that some groups were given timeslots not in order by their lottery number, and some members within the same group received different timeslots, which is not how the lottery process should work and is unfair to all those participating,” Sosa said in an email to the Daily.
Hartman said this issue led to the decision to cancel all housing assignments from that day.
“When we realized the issue was systemic and impacted the entire selection process on Thursday, we made the decision to stop selection, wipe clean any selections that were [made on] Thursday, and set a new time for housing selections for this impacted group,” Hartman said.
Hartman explained that the issue had resulted from a server overload caused by both individuals and groups being allowed to make selections on March 28.
Sosa said that she worked with StarRez, the housing management system Tufts uses for its on-campus selections to determine what caused the issue and how to resolve it. Sosa added that StarRez is continuing to look into these matters.
In order to correct the issue for this year, Sosa said selection was spread out among the groups. This would keep the servers from overloading, but students of varying group sizes would still be able to pick according to their lottery number.
An email received by affected rising sophomores confirmed this, moving two-person group selections to April 3 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and all other selections to April 4 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The email also noted that this change would not affect any group’s chance at attaining their selection.
“The change in the selection day/timeslots will not affect your ability to choose from those spaces set up specifically for your group based on size and availability,” the email says.
Phoebe Yates, a first-year who was affected by the issue, said she and her roommate initially picked housing in Latin Way, thinking this was a valid option.
“[The housing portal] was giving us options essentially to live in a double in a suite or in a quad, as well as normal doubles,” Yates said.
Confused by these selection options, Yates called the ORLL to see if these options were actually available. According to Yates, the person who answered the phone at the ORLL said the selection was valid.
After receiving the email that all selections had been cancelled, Yates called again to ensure that her previous selection would still be valid. After the ORLL initially told her the option would be open to her, Yates eventually emailed Sosa, who told Yates that the Latin Way selection was not open for a two-person group.
Yates added that her selection time for the second round was almost an hour and a half later than her initial selection time, which was cancelled.
Hartman said that he regrets that this happened to students looking for housing next year, but for most, the selection process went smoothly.
“Almost 1,400 students went through housing selection without issue, and this group of around 700 were the only ones impacted. However, we are concerned that this happened at all, and apologize for the inconvenience that this caused for the impacted students,” Hartman wrote, adding that procedural changes would be made to ensure an error-free selection process in the future.
Sosa expanded on these changes, saying new positions at the ORLL, like an assistant director of housing services, will become available within the ORLL to ensure better functioning.
“At this time, we are keeping note of all of the issues that we encountered during this process in an effort to address them all moving forward. We are currently looking to hire an Assistant Director of Housing Services who will be overseeing the housing selection process and helping streamline the process in the future,” Sosa said.
Sosa also said that as a whole, housing operations at Tufts actually run relatively well.
“Having gone through housing selection for many years that although there were some obvious frustrations with this process, Tufts’ selection process was very comprehensive with many moving parts, and despite the issues, did overall run very smoothly,” Sosa said.
Sosa added that she hoped students understand that the ORLL is doing what it can to resolve this issue in the future.
“The previous days of selection did go by very well, and while we understand and hear the frustration from students and families, we hope that they see the effort we are making to ensure the best possible outcomes for students selecting housing for next year,” she said.
Hartman gave similar reassurances, saying the decisions to cancel and push back the selections students made ensured a fairer process.
“We certainly understand the stress connected with determining housing plans, and we are committed to supporting students, which is why we decided to move forward in this way in order to ensure a fair and equitable process,” he said.