Lottery

Dear Harvard, this is how you could run an admissions lottery

Dear Harvard, this is how you could run an admissions lottery

Dear Harvard College Admissions,

As you’re quite aware, there have been increasing calls for you to try out an admissions lottery system. Calls like the one here, for example, and here and here and here and here. A lot of people think the most fair way to handle admissions for a program that is worth a whole lot but only has an acceptance rate under 5% is to literally leave it up to chance. No legacy admissions, no diversity goals, no athletic recruitment, no committee votes. This, they say, would guarantee true diversity by taking away all biases and loopholes.

I completely understand your reluctance to go in this direction.

Don't read that, read this

Don't read that, read this

In a December blog post, I contemplated the "thought experiment" of using a lottery to decide admissions to elite universities.

But just a few days later, the author of that thought experiment published an article where she really gets down to the essence of the message: "In fact, we should discard the notion that admissions is a meritocratic process that selects the 'best' 18-year-olds who apply to a selective university. When we let go of our meritocracy ideals, we see more clearly that so many talented, accomplished young people who will be outstanding leaders in the future will not make it to the likes of Harvard, Stanford and Yale."

Another money question for you

Another money question for you

Imagine that I have three pieces of paper, and you can steal one of them from me without me knowing.

The first is a hundred dollar bill. You take it from me, you have an extra hundred bucks, game over.

The second is a lottery ticket with 50 numbers for the next Powerball drawing (they cost $2 each, so it costs $100 total). The jackpot is $100 million. If you take this, you'll probably get nothing. Or you may get a little bit of money. But you just might (a roughly 1 in 292 million chance) win a hundred million dollars. If you win the big jackpot, there's a risk that I will accuse you of stealing the ticket from me, but that would be very difficult to prove. And that would only be likely if you win the big one. You'd probably get away with it.

The third is a bank statement that includes my account number and password. If you steal this, you'll have access to (probably) more than $100 but (almost certainly) less than $100 million. But getting the money from me will take more work, and it also has an increased risk of me or my bank catching you. If you know the right...or in this case wrong...people, you could probably sell the data to someone else and let them deal with it.

Which would you choose? Why?