December 02, 2006

Negotiating for loose artillery.

Another house post.

I suspect that the only people reading this who know about the closure of Casa Zimbabwe are the two who live in my house (and stop lurking or I'll poke you in the ribs while you sleep, because after all I do know where you live). For the rest of you, Casa Zimbabwe, the second-largest and second-most debaucherous house in the USCA system, will be closed next semester for structural repair. It will reopen next fall, but in the meantime 124 co-opers are being turned out to find housing either in one of the other 15 co-ops or elsewhere. As it turns out, there doesn't seem to be much problem with finding space for them -- in my house of 50 people 15 are leaving at the end of this semester -- but the question of what to do with them once they've been farmed out to other houses is becoming somewhat contentious.

The reason it's a problem is that co-opers accumulate seniority points for semesters spent living in one of the USCA houses. These points give you priority in bidding on bedrooms in whichever house you live in, with one important caveat: as a rule, if you switch houses, the first semester in your new house your points aren't active. You bid along with anyone else who has inactive points, after the continuing house members with active points have bid. Once you've spent a semester in your new house, you're considered a continuing member and all of your points come back. It's a reasonable rule in my estimation; for one, co-ops are theoretically about building a community, and so it makes sense to reward people for staying more than a semester in a house. For two, to move into a house and immediately bid your way into the biggest, airiest single is a good way to get off on the wrong foot with your housemates. You have to start at the bottom, and you should stick around if you want it to pay off.

But for the Czars* being turned out for next semester, it isn't exactly a normal situation. They don't have the option of sticking around in their house (and their house community is being split up). This is why, two years ago when the remodel was planned, the USCA's board of directors voted to allow them to have active points immediately if they moved into another house next semester. All well and good. But there's a glitch where Kingman's room bids are concerned. Two glitches, actually

The first glitch is that Kingman holds two sets of room bids for each semester. There's one bid at the end of the preceding semester, to allow continuing members to bid. Then there's another at the start of the semester itself, for new members and those from other houses. As I've heard it explained, this is because if someone lives in Kingman, then moves out, then comes back, their points are active when they come back because they've been a Kingmanite before. But they haven't been in the house the previous semester, so they're not included in the first round of bids. It becomes a terrace system of points: continuing active points in the first bid, then returning active points, inactive points, and no points in the second bid.

It's only been in the last week or so that the entirety of the board's decision has been communicated to the Kingman population: Czars will have active points and bid in the first round of room bids. In other words, entering Czars will have absolutely all privileges given to continuing Kingmanites. I'd like to gripe for a moment about the fact that our board representative has hardly been at any house council meetings this semester and really should have made sure we knew about this before the week of room bids. Okay, that's enough of a moment. Let's continue.

Glitch number two has been made apparent over the past few days. It concerns the fact that Czars didn't have to wait until now to move out; in fact, a number of them moved into Kingman at the start of this semester. They were planning ahead in order to be continuing members, with active points and first bid privileges, so as to get nice rooms for next semester. Since they had inactive points when they moved in, they tended to end up in fairly crappy rooms for the current semester. Their plans mostly concerned bidding into better ones, not located in the dank and chilly basement**, for spring. This would have worked if, as some of them were expecting, the entering Czars would be bidding in the second round. The new Czars would have bid priority over people entirely new to the co-ops and anyone from a non-CZ house, but the former-Czars-now-Kingmanites who planned ahead would still get to move up in the room hierarchy. As it is, their forward thinking gained them nothing except an extra, unnecessary, semester in the basement where they will find themselves staying if their former housemates have enough points to outbid them.

I just realized that one of my readers in the house is a forward-thinking refugee Czar. Fascinating. I suppose that makes this as good a forum as any to ask (both house readers and non-house readers) what you all think of this situation. If it had been put to you to figure out the fair solution before the board's full decision was made clear, what would you have done? If it were put to you now to figure out a fair way to run our next room bids, what would you do? If you were the house manager and were facing mutiny from a coalition of angry house members who want the Czars kept out of the first round (and who are, interestingly, mostly members who are settled in nice rooms and won't be bidding), how would you quell it?

Feel free to answer using the back of this page if space requires.

*Fun USCA fact: houses tend to acquire, intentionally or otherwise, nicknames for their inhabitants based in some way on the house's name. Casa Zimbabwe is generally shortened to CZ, and hence it is full of Czars. At Cloyne you become a Clone, and at Wilde a Wilde Childe. Castro residents are, unfortunately, known as Castrati. Inhabitants of Lothlorien are of course Elves. Kingman comes in as pretty appallingly boring with Kingmanites. Even Hillegass-Parker house (the remodeled, reopened and heavily sanitized Le Chateau), which is only a couple of semesters old, has been shortened to HiP and calls its residents Hipsters. Basically, we should be ashamed.

**For the record, I'm planning on bidding into the dank and chilly basement next semester. It's not because it's dank and chilly, but because it's the accepted place to have allergy-inducing animals and I miss my fuzz.

Posted by dianna at December 2, 2006 12:00 AM

Ignoring your point for now because I'm about to go to bed:

They're called Czars now? Really? This is interesting, because the proper name for residents of CZ was a matter of some debate when I was at Berkeley. I knew a fellow, born in Russia, who worked at the library and had resided at CZ for some years. Thanks, in part, to his nationality he spent his whole time living there campaigning for the Czars nomenclature. However, I was led to understand by my friend who lived there for several years, it generally failed to catch on. "CZers" (pronounced "See-Zee-Ers") was the preferred nomenclature. It's interesting that it wasn't until my Russian acquaintance left CZ that Czars won the war for the hearts and minds of the members of the USCA.

Posted by: Zach at December 2, 2006 01:20 AM

That's interesting. I wonder if it depends on who you ask. When I started hearing people call them Czars this semester it had the ring of familiarity to it, which makes me think that I'd heard some of my fellow Wilde Children use it before. But then, Wilde took after its namesake and valued wit and surreality to a ridiculous degree, so perhaps it was one of a few pockets in which the name caught on early?

Now answer the question, damnit.

Posted by: Dianna at December 2, 2006 11:14 AM

I'm willing to allow that my knowledge of the practices at CZ may be faulty. It comes almost exclusively from talking to the one friend who lived there; while information from other sources has generally confirmed her as reliable, the Czars/CZers question is not one for which I have any source but her. It could be that when she said "He's been trying, but Czars just hasn't caught on," what she meant was "Czars hasn't caught on with me." This explanation seems not only possible, but probable.

As to your question: Tricky. As I see it, the Czars are your guests. You want to treat them nicely, which means making every effort to accomodate them within reason. But the question is how nice "within reason" should be.

How about this: Let them bid in the first round, since that seems consistent with putting them on fairly equal footing with full-on Kingmanites. Making them bid in the second round has a distinct feeling of giving them the leftovers. But: scale their points down in some way, so that they don't dominate the bidding process. So, for instance, for every two points you earned at CZ you get one point at Kingman in the bidding. CZ points will thus have an effect, but Kingmanites will still largely be in control of the process.

The eloquent part of this solution: CZers who planned ahead and moved into Kingman in the fall? The points they earned at Kingman count full, and are added to the converted CZ points. Thus, say I had 1000 points built up at CZ, then moved into Kingman this semester, where I accumulated 500 points. When bidding, I would have 500 Kingman points + (.5 * 1000 CZ points = 500 points) = 1000 points in the new bidding process. This gives folks who had the foresight to move in early a bit of an edge over the latecoming Czars and integrates them into the process fairly seamlessly.

Posted by: Zach at December 2, 2006 12:01 PM

Well, sort of. I don't really see them as being our guests. They're our housemates, and there's no telling how many of them will go back to CZ and how many will stay. By default I'm considering them new Kingmanites unless and until they start expressing the intention to leave.

I have a bone to pick with the second part of your plan. In the ordinary run of things, ALL of your points become active after one semester in a house. The early refugee Czars are now treated identically to other Kingmanites because they've been here for a semester. If they had 5 points from CZ before moving in (it's one point per semester, or 3/4 point for a summer), they now have 6 points that are equal to any 6 points held by any other Kingmanite. Your math actually diminishes their points substantially, penalizing them with regard to their current housemates. No better than penalizing them with regard to their former housemates, really.

Also, your solution seems skewed toward current house members at least as much as the second-round plan. Would you agree?

Posted by: Dianna at December 2, 2006 06:14 PM

Well, if you're going to operate under the assumption that they're Kingmanites now and forever until they say otherwise, then treat them like new Kingmanites: Shove them to the back of the line for a semester, the same you'd do with any new housemate. It's unfair to punish the folks who are just staying in Kingman for a semester giving them lousy slots, but it's also unfair to non-CZ transferees that the Czars who do want to out-right transfer should get to bypass the semester with a poor bid number.

There's a population of total Czars, C, of which a certain number, A, will wind up staying in Kingman, and a certain number, B, will move back. Treat them like ordinary transfers and group B is getting punished. Grant them favorable bid status and group A gets an undeserved benefit. No solution applied to the entirety of group C will produce a 100% optimal outcome. And you can't tell which Czars will wind up in group A and which in group B.

My plan's a middle ground between "they get all their points" and "they get none of them." It ensures that nobody is treated egregiously differently than how they should be treated, but nobody's treated quite correctly, either.

I don't think my plan favors current house members more than the second-round plan; in the second-round plan, the first Czar would pick after the last continuing Kingmanite, yes? Under my plan at least some Czars will likely get mixed in amongst the continuing Kingmanites.

And I think I misunderstood the problem with respect to the early movers. In that case, treat them like Kingmanites with full points and, like other Kingmanites, they'll have an advantage over the incoming Czars.

Posted by: Zach at December 2, 2006 07:45 PM