Need-Blind Wes: Updates and Organization

UOC organizational meeting spurs student group, online statement, brief meeting with Roth, tweet from Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02.

When  I broke the news that Wesleyan’s trustees are preparing to alter need-blind admissions practices in the coming budget, I pointed to the 1992 Need-Blind North College Occupation and remarked that Wes students are no longer taking an active voice in the University’s financial aid practices. I spoke too soon.

About 35 students and recent alums met in the University Organizing Center yesterday afternoon to express concerns—in short, to discuss what the 100% need-blind policy is at present, what the shift means for Wesleyan’s fiscal practices, how students should respond and confront the administration (meetings, chalking, and manifestos, oh my), and why the history of need-blind activism at Wes remains significant. For more extensive notes on the meeting or how you can get involved, contact my esteemed colleague A-Batte at abatte(at)wes or Evan Weber ’13 at eweber(at)wes. What follows is a brief rundown on student actions so far (disclosure: this blogger is directly involved) and additional viewpoints. Feel free to comment with suggestions, critiques, or incoherent streams of profanity—but for a more substantial digital discussion of Wesleyan fiscal practices present and future, do consult the comment thread in the original post.

First, the site. Within a few hours of the UOC meeting, Oriana Ott ’14 set up a website to spread awareness and encourage organization. (Mad credit to Rob Alvarez ’96, a key organizer behind the 1992 occupation, for the phrase “Stop Selling Seats.” Alvarez, the Finance Chair of Alpha Delt’s trustee board, is on campus this weekend and can offer significant insight into the activism that took place in 1992. Juts go to Alpha Delt and yell his name really loud.) As of posting, the site includes a “Brief Statement of Our Stance,” a page-in-progress for Current Actions, and a brief bullet-form history of need-blind activism at Wes courtesy of yours truly. Here’s the drafted statement as it appears on the site:

President Michael Roth and the Board of Trustees are planning to abandon the Wesleyan tradition of being “need-blind” in the admissions process beginning with the class of 2017. Currently, admissions decisions are made for the majority of the student body without taking into account a student’s financial standing or need for financial aid.* The proposed shift in policy would establish a set budget to allocate towards financial aid; the Admissions Office would have to consider students’ financial need as a qualification for their acceptance. We recognize that the college admissions process is far from perfect and this process, tuition rates, and Wesleyan’s need packages already favor particular socioeconomic classes. However, we worry that this new policy would worsen these existing inequities.

Additionally, we are concerned about the lack of transparency, consultation, and communication with the student body, parents, and alumni in coming to this decision. Especially considering the far-reaching impacts this decision would have on all members of our community, we expect that a larger discussion can occur before this policy is implemented.

*Wesleyan is “need-blind” for all domestic first-year students, but is need-aware for international students and transfers.

Then, Alvarez, the alum involved with previous need-blind efforts, sent me a brief statement on the 1992 occupation and why it matters today:

If I remember correctly — and Ben can correct me if I am wrong — the Chace plan was already set to go back in the early ’90s. It may still have formally been a proposal, but that was really just a technicality; the decision had been made to make the change. What the activism of the time succeeded in doing was very much reversing that decision. I say this because I hope that people who care about this issue will not think that the battle is lost by whatever the Board did today (when most students were already gone). A serious effort on campus come fall can still very much have an impact, if it is organized and thoughtful enough.

Additionally, Professor Claire Potter, who now teaches at the New School in New York, offers a lengthy comment on the original Wesleying post under her Tenured Radical handle. Potter stresses that eliminating need-blind is appealing to the University because it allows greater predictability with regard to long-range planning, consistent with austerity measures “patterned on neo-liberal governmentality, where budget reductions are usually coupled to a rise in management costs and policy changes”; and that this policy will likely have minimal effect on who is admitted, but more significant effects on who applies in the first place (i.e., “students who are from working class, poor and immigrant families believe that they will not be discriminated against under a need blind system”). The comment is too lengthy to summarize in full, which is to say, read it here. (Famed arch-conservative campus darklord Mytheos Holt ’10 is also working on a personal statement in support of need-blind admissions, to be posted on the site shortly. How’s that for bipartisan consensus?) (Update: you can read Holt’s statement in full here, below Tenured Radical’s.)

Edit: In The Heights creator and campus celebrity Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02 weighs in on Twitter as well:

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, WSA President Zach Malter ’13 and Student Affairs Committee Chair Andrew Trexler ’14 met with President Roth’s Chief of Staff, Andy Tanaka ’00, early this morning to express student concern. Then this showed up in my inbox:

Zach Malter and I met with Andy Tanaka, President Roth’s Chief of Staff, earlier this morning to relay some of our concerns about these issues. President Roth and Andy have agreed to meet with a small group of students later today to continue the conversation about need-blind and student-administration communication. Andy said that there is room for seven or eight people to attend.

So I attended, along with A-Batte, WSA Big Dogs Malter and Trexler, and a few other involved students. It lasted thirty minutes. We rehashed, as briefly as possible, much of what has been said here, here, and here. Roth repeatedly pointed out that cutting need-blind is, in his view, better than increasing loans and offered to meet with students and hold additional forums in the fall. He expressed a commitment to spending more money on scholarships, but argued that current financial aid practices are unsustainable given Wesleyan’s straggling endowment (“we can’t have 52% on aid, like at Williams”). He promised to write a blog post about financial aid policies and yesterday’s Trustee meeting. And he concluded, “If there’s a better idea, we’ll use it.”

So, like, get brainstorming. Keep discussing. Keep talking about alternatives, priorities, and university values. And don’t wait until the fall.

Pertinent Argus link: Students Push Back Against Proposed Budget Measures at Affordability Meeting

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  • johnwesley

    The word around the  Usdan this afternoon was the the trustees voted on Thursday, but that there has been a delay in making the announcement.  Perhaps, you guys are having an effect?

  • Anon

    Would a letter writing campaign or inundating Roth’s inbox with emails in favor of need blind admissions have any effect? Are people already doing something like this?

    • clthometownboy

      Perhaps writing a check to cover the cost of attendance for low-income students would help. If alumni value need-blind admission policies, donate more money! If students from high-income familes value the policy, offer to pay more so that the money collected can be used to offset the losses from admitting low-income students. Money, not e-mails will help.

  • agreed.

    hey great posting. just a suggestion in the future to make this easier to read and process. waaaay too many external links. really hard to follow as a result.