While scanning Randy Cohen’s recent Ethicist columns for something to complain about, I found this query about allocating faculty offices:
I am a faculty member at a university undergoing major campus renovations, including new office spaces. Departments were asked to determine their own ways of assigning rooms, but the task is complicated by factors like seniority and rank — does someone with tenure deserve a better room? Some faculty members have greater teaching demands and might need larger rooms to meet with students. What is the most ethical way to allocate offices: seniority? Rank? Lottery?
True to form, Cohen has nothing interesting to say, and offers no rationale for his random suggestions. It never seems to have occurred to him that scarce resources tend to be allocated most efficiently by markets. If he’d done a little research, he might have found this charming account of how the economists at Arizona State solved the office allocation problem.