Free agency

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"Free agency" is the name given to the system of undergraduate life and housing beginning in 1993 [1] and which will end with the Spring 2006 semester, when that semester's room draw will pave the way for Neighborhoods.

Free agency is so called because it is the system at Williams to date under which students had the most options when entering room draw, the all-campus lottery in which students living on campus chose their habitations next year. Whereas in past systems of residential life, upperclassmen chose membership (and therefore housing) with a fraternity affiliation, or were locked into living in one house, free agency placed comparatively few restrictions on a student's choice. A low pick in the lottery meant fewer vacancies to choose from, but this was, in early free agency, the only restriction.

The Decline of Free Agency

Free agency's demise began with the hiring of Morton Owen Schapiro as president of the college, who had as a central objective the large-scale assessment of residential life at Williams. He charged the Committee on Undergraduate Life to do a full-scale examination of Williams' residential system. That and the next year's CUL fulfilled their duties by:

  • Conducting an opinion and satisfaction survey of current students
  • Visiting peer institutions and consulting with residential staff there
  • Holding open fora at Williams designed to solicit student opinion
  • Touring Williams dorms to examine the interiors, as well as speak with current residents.
  • Allowing The Record to cover meetings of the CUL. The paper also published a weeks-long series on the history of student housing at Williams and comparisons to housing at other institutions. [2]

Research conducted by the CUL from 2000-2002 led the 2002 report to call for changes to residential life. The first of these listed in the report and the first to be implemented were changes to room draw procedures. These changes were intended to fight what they saw as trend towards "homogeneity in houses" [2, We Recommend #1], or self-segregation by students. Thus, beginning with the spring of 2002 room draw, the following restrictions on room draw procedure became reality until the end of free agency:

  • Group reduction: The maximum number of students that could pick together in one lottery number was reduced from seven to four.
  • The Gender Cap: a non-co-op house could not be composed of more than 60% of one gender.
  • Blind draw: Previously, WSO's "Plans" service would post the names of students and what rooms they picked into in real time, and students picking in made decisions based on this knowledge. Under what students would come to call "blind draw," WSO was prevented from doing this, over their protests. WSO was allowed to post only the boolean occupancy state of a room and the gender of any occupants, and students going through room draw were carefully corralled in and out of the room draw location so as to control how much exposure they had to information about where prior picks had ended up.

These restrictions to room draw were what caused the student body as a whole to take an alarmed notice to the movement that would eventually end free agency, but students noted little more action regarding residential life restructuring by the next CUL other than their satisfaction survey, and the CUL of the year after that comprised something of a hiccup. That CUL, of 2003 - 4, tasked itself with the examination of alcohol policy [3].

But the 2004-6 CULs returned to a focus on residential life, and these years were the golden sunset of free agency, which would make way for the new system of residential life, which has had many names. Willipedia's article covering the system is named for the name by wich it was first widely known: Anchor Housing.