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The greenness of the Lawn

Students on last year

Students on last year's Lawn Selection Committee are questioning the workings of the room admission process.

Each year, the Lawn Selection Committee oversees a complex and controversial process to select which students will live in the University's original Academical Village. The procedure has been revised time and again, and although the administration has defended its integrity, many students who worked for last year's committee have said the current process is still flawed.

An involved process \nThe process begins with the Lawn Selection Process Organizing Committee, which is in charge of selecting and assembling the Lawn Selection Committee. The LSPOC consists of the head resident of the Lawn and representatives from the University Judiciary Committee, Student Council, the Honor Committee and each school's councils. It also includes three faculty members: Housing Director of Accommodations John Evans, African-American Affairs Dean Maurice Apprey and Dean of Students Allen Groves, who serves as the committee's chair. Although it operates long before student applications are read, the LSPOC is an important part of the selection process because it not only chooses which students and organizations make up the Selection Committee but also decides what questions are on the application itself.

Nevertheless, University Alumna Abby Adams - who served as last year's Arts & Sciences Council LSPOC representative - said the committee did not make any sweeping changes to the processes during that time. The most significant change was to move the location of students' grade point averages from the top to the bottom of their applications. This change was made, Adams said, so that applicants' grades would not unduly influence how committee members read their essays. It also addressed concerns that Architecture students' grades were typically lower, giving them a disadvantage against applicants from the College. In addition, the LSPOC asked applicants to discuss their academic experiences at the University as a whole.

At the LSPOC level, students did not seem concerned that administrators were interfering excessively. Adams said the faculty members did not drive the decision-making but rather provided institutional memory during a process that has a long history at the University, a perspective that student self-governed groups may sometimes lack.

The choice of Lawn Selection Committee members is the step debated most often in the Lawn application processes. At the end of each fall semester, the head resident sends out an e-mail to the fourth-year class encouraging them to get involved in the selection process. Fifteen applicants are randomly chosen to serve on the Lawn Selection Committee and are joined by representatives from 23 organizations, including the Honor Committee, each undergraduate school, the Greek Councils and the Minority Rights Coalition.

After the committee receives the applications - about 250 students usually apply to live on the Lawn - each committee member reads them all and selects 60 - in effect proposing his ideal Lawn community. After this, a computer system tabulates the results and lists the 47 applications with the most votes. If necessary, the committee conducts a tie-breaking round for applications that received the same number of votes. The entire process is solitary and anonymous, said Ben Chrisinger, former Head Lawn Resident and committee member. Each application is given a random number rather than a name, and committee members are instructed not to speak with one another about the applications. By mid-February, the Lawn rooms are assigned to their next residents.

An imperfect procedure\nMembers of last year's Lawn Selection Committee heavily criticized the processes by which the LSPOC decides who should have a position on the Selection Committee. Adams said the issue was the biggest controversy within the LSPOC. Despite this discontent, however, the process has not yet been reformed.

"Who the hell said that the Asian Student Union or any of those people deserved a seat?" said former committee member Howard O, who represented ASU on the committee. Giving seats to a large number of student groups, he said, sends the wrong message by encouraging students to join organizations simply to increase their chances of living on the Lawn. They might hope to gain an advantage by meeting people who will end up on the Selection Committee, he said.

Other committee members agreed with O and discussed how difficult it can be to choose members of the Selection Committee.

"I [question] why some groups are automatically given a Selection Committee spot," alumna Jewell Debnam said. "I'm not sure why any of the fraternity or sorority groups need spots on the Selection Committee,"

Moreover, it may be problematic to decide which student organization best represents its constituency, Debnam said.

"The Black Student Alliance is not the only group that represents black students at U.Va.," she said. "Why are they chosen rather than others?"\nO said Madison House, Residence Life, drama groups and the music and arts groups have large student memberships but, for no discernible reason, are underrepresented in the Selection Committee. They have just as good reason as any organization to be there, he said, but none of them is guaranteed a spot.

Debnam also said she believed the Selection Committee is too tough on transfer students. There is an organization representing transfer students, Debnam said, but its members were not given the same consideration as members of other groups because the organization has been at the University for less than two years.

"Transfer students make up a large part of the community, and [the Lawn] professes to represent the entire community," she said.

One solution proposed has been not to guarantee any spots on the committee at all. Former committee member Desiree Smith said she was surprised that the system favored some groups instead of others.

"Why not just get rid of all the appointed spots and just have a random student group?" she said. "I'd like to believe that you would have a Lawn that would reflect what we all think is important, and not just what key people think."

Another problem many saw was the inability of committee members to talk to each other, especially during the tie-breaking round. O found himself forced to change some of his "no" votes to "yes" votes in the tiebreaker.

"It was a critical round for someone to convince me, to tell me what qualities they found that were consistent with what we're looking for," he said.

Smith agreed, also complaining about the lack of dialogue in the group. In theory, the closed nature of the system is designed to reduce bias, but sometimes it does just the opposite, she said, because it can make committee members favor organizations with which they are familiar rather than asking them to learn about ones with which they are not.

"If I'm the type of person who's never even heard of the Multicultural Greek Council or the National Pan-Hellenic Greek Council, I might not know how to evaluate those organizations," she said.

University administrators agreed that the process was faulty in this respect.

"Where [the selection process] can get better is understanding organizations," said Pat Lampkin, vice president for student affairs. "If [committee members] need to know more, I would like them to have a resource to learn more about what organizations do."

Smith noted that she believes the University community should shake the widely held assumption that the selection processes is perfect and unbiased. Problems in the selection process exist, O agreed, further adding that his fellow committee members did not seem enthusiastic to question the procedures.

"In short, the answer was because of tradition," he said. "Nobody has sat down and thought about it."

Defending administrative tradition \nDespite students' complaints, administrators defended the process and its tradition.

"Based upon ultimate results, I believe that it has been a fair process during my time as dean." Groves said.

The process' anonymity and lack of discussion during the procedure is particularly beneficial, Lampkin said. Previously, committee members could talk to each other, students' names were written on their applications and committee members voted on a scale that awarded one to five points.

"They were trading fives and ones," she said, and students on the Committee were doing whatever they could to make sure their friends or members of their organizations made it onto the Lawn. "That's why they can't talk - because they used to blackball."

Groves added that the abolition of guaranteed spots would be harmful to the process.

"The outcome would be susceptible to manipulation, as any random selection will be heavily influenced by the applicant pool from which it is drawn," he said. "Thus, if a large organization had all of its members apply for the Selection Committee, it is highly likely that they would be disproportionately represented in the ultimate Selection Committee generated by the random selection process."

One solution would be to make the Selection Committee truly random, but Chrisinger said that option would not work either because many fourth-year students are busy during their second semesters and may not want to put in the 30-50 hours of work the Selection Committee entails. Because it is an individual process, it also is difficult to make sure that members are actually reading all the applications. As a result, he said, it is preferable to have people who want to be on the committee.

Lampkin said it is difficult to decide exactly which groups deserve to be on the Selection Committee but added that the LSPOC has made its decisions well. The last groups to be selected were the National Pan-Hellenic Council and the Multicultural Greek Council.

"The objective is to make certain that a broad perspective of views is represented on the Selection Committee to ensure that the process equitably values various forms of contributions on Grounds," Groves said. "In my experience, it has worked well, and I have not detected any bias in favor of particular organizations by Selection Committee members."

Lampkin also defended against accusations of bias on the part of individual committee members.

"People don't come in there with as much of an agenda as you think. It evens itself out," she said.

Some students agreed with the administration on this issue. Chrisinger also stood by the choices.

"When I came into this, I was skeptical, but having gone through it and stood in front of this room of 30-plus people, it was a group of pretty different people, a pretty wide slice of U.Va.," he said. "There was a lot of perspective."

No one said the process was perfect, Chrisinger admitted, but students with ideas about the process are encouraged to contact their school representatives.

In the end, though, as Lampkin said, "It's a selection process. Some people get in and some don't"

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