Campus Scandals and College Admissions: What Applicants Should Know

Anyone applying to college these days needs to learn about the values of those who will be in charge of their education

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Steve Helber / AP

University of Virginia president Teresa Sullivan, surrounded by supporters and students, sings the "Good Old Song," the university's anthem, on July 26, 2012, after she was reinstated

Every year over the course of the summer, high school seniors cobble together a list of schools they plan to apply to. They consider academics and social life, location and school size, reputation and school culture, all in an attempt to find that elusive perfect fit. But recent scandals in a pair of the most storied public universities in the country — the University of Virginia (UVA) and Penn State — draw attention to another important consideration for future college students: What are the values and priorities of the administration and the trustees?

At UVA, controversy erupted after a popular president, Teresa Sullivan, was ousted by the board of trustees for not moving the school quickly enough to a hybrid model of education, one in which a greater proportion of the university’s offerings were made online. Sullivan wanted to make the changes from the bottom up, with the cooperation of students and faculty. The board wanted a quick, top-down change, in the style of a Fortune 500 corporation. In the end, Sullivan was rehired, and the board’s vision was effectively rebuffed. Indeed, donations plummeted after Sullivan’s ouster then shot up after she was rehired, which would seem to indicate supporters of the university prefer Sullivan’s approach to the board’s.

(MORE: Lisa Guernsey: UVA Ouster: A Symptom of Our ‘Reboot’ Culture)

Why should any of this matter for incoming students? The priorities set by the administration can have a huge — and often rapid — impact on the culture and academics of a university. The top-down, corporate vision of administration, in particular, often leads to changes that might have been unfathomable a few decades ago, like when SUNY Albany recently cut its departments of French, Italian, theater and classics. What kinds of administration do you want at your school: one that will run the university in a more traditional fashion, keeping less popular departments alive in the spirit of intellectual inquiry? Or one that puts money where the students, essentially voting by course enrollment and majors, would seem to have the most interest in seeing it go? As budgets become tighter, expect to see battles like these play out again and again at universities across the country.

The Penn State scandal, similarly, offers us insight into the values of the administration and the trustees of the university. Sports — and especially football — quite simply came first. Before academics. Before anything. While Penn State will surely be held up as an example of collegiate-sports culture gone wrong, any student planning to apply to a school with strong Division 1 athletics would be well served to look into how that athletic culture impacts the academic and social fabric of the university. Do athletes receive special treatment? Are other departments shortchanged so athletics can prosper?

(MORE: Doug Glanville: How Penn State Can Move Forward)

In short, what these scandals show is that a student should investigate not just the obvious factors in selecting a university — academics, social life, location, size and so on. Look at the factors that shape academics, that shape the university culture. Just as savvy job hunters will learn about the CEO and board of any company they consider working for, so too savvy students should learn what they can about the values of those in control of their education.

MORE: Edmonds: Why Are There No Summer SATs?

14 comments
KenWiessler
KenWiessler

University of California is giving its citizens double taxation. We pay for it, but they then sell off the popular campuses (UCLA, UCB, UCSD, UCSB, UCSC, UCI) to the out of state students, and "offer the UC experience" of unpopular UC Merced to the instate students. So many students opt out of California, parents end up paying out of state tuition to Arizona, Oregon, Colorado, etc., who also love out of state students.

Hey, do you think the colleges are in collusion?

voiceofreas1
voiceofreas1

I wish there was at least one journalist who would do their own research.  1.  84% of Penn State football players graduate  2.  all freshmen have mandatory study hours in the library, and if you go there you will see them.  3.  Penn State has NO athletic dorms.  All scholarship athletes reside in the general public, because Joe Paterno wanted them to have as normal a college  experience as possible.  The media-driven frenzy over this is no less shameful than that of the Duke Lacrosse Team or Richard Jewel (?) the alleged Olympic Park Bomber who turned out to be the Olympic Park hero.  sandusky is a vile, despicable human being, but the Freeh report is admittedly riddled with unsubstantiated conclusions, due to its lack of actual subpoena power and the refusal of the main actors to cooperate.  We live by the rule of law.  We aren't supposed to ignore our laws based upon the repulsiveness of the crime, as the NCAA did in ignoring it own rules.  Let the courts do their job and then tell me about "the culture of Penn State," especially if you have never even been there.

f_galton
f_galton

Make sure you don't plagiarize on your application. Speaking of plagiarism, 

 what happened to Fareed Zakaria?

perspective2
perspective2

There was a 43 percent jump in the number of affluent foreign and affluent out-of-state students accepted by University of California Berkeley. The more non-Californians admitted, the fewer qualified Californians can be. Fall admit rate for Californians drops to record low 18%. A shocking confirmation of inept Chancellor, Provost.

 

In spite of eligibility Cal. Chancellor Birgeneau ($450.000), Provost Breslauer ($306,000) shed thousands of instate applicants. Qualified instate applicants to public Cal. are replaced by a $50,600 payment from born abroad affluent foreign and affluent out of state students. And, Birgeneau subsidizes affluent foreign and affluent out of state tuition in the guise of diversity while he doubles instate tuition/fees. (Harvard is now less costly than Cal.)

 

Birgeneau/Breslauer accept affluent $50,600 foreign students that displace qualified instate Californians (When depreciation of tax funded assets are included (as they should be), out of state and foreign tuition is more than $100,000 and does NOT subsidize instate tuition.

 

With the recommendations of Cal. Chancellor Birgeneau ($450,000 salary), Provost George Breslauer ($306,000 salary) allowed campus police to use excessive force - rammed baton jabs - on students protesting Birgeneau‘s doubling of instate tuition. Birgeneau resigned: sack Provost Breslauer.

 

Send a forceful message that Cal. senior management decisions are unacceptable: UC Board of Regents   marsha.kelman@ucop.edu and Calif. State Senator and Assemblymember.

 

FLA_MOM
FLA_MOM

And just how, exactly, is a prospective student supposed to find out about the "values" of the administration?  The whole Penn State fiasco was well hiddens for many years.  What student applying there just  two or three years ago would have known this was all going on behind closed doors? 

Dan Edmonds
Dan Edmonds

 While there's no way a student could have known about all the sordid details of the Penn State situation, they could easily have determined that it was a school that seemed to put outsized values on athletics. Look at where schools spend money. At what programs are cut and which ones grow. At what initiatives are funded and which sputter and die, and you can learn a lot about a university's values.

I'll be the first to admit that it's not always easy, but it's also not something that goes on entirely behind closed doors. Talk to students and faculty at schools you want to attend. Read the campus newspapers (which are generally available online for anyone who wants to see them). And, again, see where the school is spending money (which, for public universities, is largely a matter of public record).

Nathaniel M. Campbell
Nathaniel M. Campbell like.author.displayName 1 Like

If the Penn State students' response to the moral indictment of Joe Paterno is any indication, the students themselves want the school "to put outsized values on athletics."

Shannon817
Shannon817

In fact Joe Paterno is part of the reason why many struggling departments in the liberal arts were saved-- he valued the classics and philosophy and was integral in promoting academics first.  He made sure the athletes were caught up on school work and if they were behind that they got a tutor.  He donated millions to improve and expand the university library and funded several programs including an undergraduate fellowship program for liberal arts students.  Penn State is first and foremost one of the top 100 universities in the world and a research institution.  I went there because of the programs offered and because Penn State offers one of the best honors programs in the nation.  I will never regret my choice and I will never forget what Joe and the Paterno family contributed to my education.  Additionally, no graduate program has discriminated against me based on where I came from and I have found that our alumni network is incredibly supportive and widespread.  There is no reason for any student to decide against Penn State based on the recent scandal (unless, of course, they were coming to play football and really wanted to go to bowl games).  If you come to Penn State you will be offered a world-class education with a myriad of options for majoring, minoring, and studying abroad.  In case everyone hasn't forgotten, Penn State was ranked #1 among job recruiters this year...

Dan Edmonds
Dan Edmonds

 I think it's unquestionable that some do. And I'm afraid that no amount of sound or fury we can produce will change that reality.

Nathaniel M. Campbell
Nathaniel M. Campbell

But as we saw with Penn State, a major contributor to these scandals is the absurd glorification of athletics programs that privileges them above all else.  The students themselves glorified Joe Paterno as a god who could do no wrong. When I was a graduate student at Notre Dame, the football coach openly admitted that he wasn't interested in the academic performance of his players: their sole reason to be there was to play football.  I also learned not to be in the library on game days, because I would be interrupted every five minutes by drunken fans wanting to know more about "Touchdown Jesus".

Here's the catch: incoming students find the out-of-control sports cultures at these schools attractive.

Codybiv
Codybiv

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