Wespeak: “Need-Blind Admissions: The Price Tag of Equality”

Wespeak, banner drop, Facebook page, and more.

This week, shortly after Sunday’s student meeting, Benny Doctor ’14 and Leonid Liu ’14 coauthored a Wespeak in support of need-blind admissions. They’ve asked Wesleying to repost it. Since it’s relevant, I’m including footage of today’s “NEED BLIND STAYS” banner drop, which appeared in Usdan today shortly after the lunch rush. According to the Usdan worker tasked with removing it, “That was the biggest Usdan banner violation I’ve ever seen.”

Although we come from very different backgrounds, neither of us would be here today had President Roth’s proposed need-aware admissions policy been in place when we were applying for college. For that reason, and many others, we oppose a need-aware Wesleyan.

Until now, the administration’s discussion about need-blind admissions has been almost exclusively focused on the University’s financial challenges. We recognize that coming up with a feasible alternative financial plan is necessary to preserve need-blind admissions. However, we believe that it is important to recognize that this policy also has adverse moral, cultural, and academic implications.

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By adopting a policy that explicitly discriminates against applicants from lower- and middle class families, President Roth will transform the boundaries of what Wesleyan considers ethical. Up until now, the University has made it a policy to admit students from the United States without previous knowledge of their family’s ability to pay. Wesleyan students are admitted based on criteria such as grades, SAT scores, and personal essays. Although this system is far from ideal, we as a community took a clear stance against explicit discrimination. Now, the Roth administration is taking a serious step backwards, allowing the budget, and not our ideals, to determine how moral we can be as an institution.

All this is in an attempt to preserve what President Roth calls the central Wesleyan experience. However, the parts of the Wesleyan experience that will be hurt by a policy that discriminates against those without the means to pay are more fundamental than the sometimes extravagant events and resources that cost the University millions. As we see it, this policy will hurt our Wesleyan experience and future Wesleyan experiences to come. A need-aware admissions policy sends an inherently unfriendly message to applicants: you may be a great applicant, but we won’t accept you into our community because your family can’t pay enough. Or, you may be great applicant, but the deciding factor in accepting you is your money.

Since Wesleyan prides itself on having a culture that is inclusive, diverse, and socially and politically conscious, this policy should leave us all feeling uncomfortable. This new admissions code will not only effect who gets into Wesleyan, but will also impact the pool of applicants—how will the diversity of our applicants change if we give explicit preference to families that are able to pay? Clearly, the Wesleyan that this policy attempts to save will be culturally different than the school we know now.

Over the past two years, Wesleyan has taught us that diversity is an important part of any open-minded education. We learn from diversity: in any given class, the wider the range of experiences, perspectives, and backgrounds present, the wider the range of our thoughts, questions, and discussions. We learn as much from each other as we do from our professors, so the makeup of our school is crucial to the Wesleyan experience. Excluding people from our community based on their ability to pay reduces the scope of our intellectual growth in ways that cheapen the Wesleyan experience.

Finally, this policy undermines the lessons that we learn from our Wesleyan professors and mentors. Having difficult, deliberate conversations in and out of class about our privileges or lack thereof, how we oppress and are oppressed, and what social injustices still exist is made even more difficult if the lessons we learn are inconsistent with the policies of the place in which we learn them. Many of our most effective professors made their lessons authentic and relatable through teaching by example. Therefore, the proposed policy will directly conflict with Wesleyan’s most important ideals.

Moving forward, Wesleyan should have an open discussion about its possibilities in terms of need-blind admissions. In part, this means addressing administrative concerns about our financial challenges. Of course we are going to need to make serious proposals to make Wesleyan financially sustainable. In the meantime, however, we must remember to vigilantly uphold the ethics that are central to the Wesleyan experience—even if it means we have to get more creative.

Interested in getting involved? Ben Doernbeard ’13 invites you to email NeedBlindDA(at)gmail(dot)com.

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  • Mytheos Holt ’10

    I did not think it was possible, given how vocally opposed to this policy I am, but this Wespeak actually makes me want to take a second look at it. If Messrs Doctor and Liu believe that somehow, it is more moral of Wesleyan to go bankrupt than to “allow the budget, and not our ideals, to determine how moral we can be as an institution,” they had better make that case, and stop pretending that they have Wesleyan’s interests at heart, rather than their own pathological aversion to privilege. Otherwise, let the case be made by people who actually have an interest in Wesleyan’s survival, rather than simply an ideology that refuses to acknowledge reality when it conflicts with one’s sentiment.

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  • anon

    it’s not clear that by capping financial aid, and therefore being need aware for an estimated 10-20%, would ensure that all students get 100% of demonstrated need. Wesleyan says it does that now- but many people still feel that they are grauduating with too much debt. It’s not clear that getting rid of need blind for 10-20 percent will improve financial aid packages for the ones who do get in. The money that would be saved would likely go to grow the endowment instead. Capping financial aid allows the university to more easily plan a budget for the future growth of the endowment, because otherwise financial aid is unpredictable depending on the neediness of the applicants. I argue for restoring need blind for all applicants, because even though we need to grow the endowment, it’s not clear that getting rid of need blind is the only way that we can do that, and it should only be considered in the most dire of financial situations due to the moral implications, and the implications on the people who decide to apply

    • alum

      “it should only be considered in the most dire of financial situations”

      Not sure if you noticed, but the financial situation IS DIRE. why do you think Wesleyan has cut $30 million from its budget over the past few years? Wes is doing all it can to hang in there at the top of the liberal arts college pecking order (as defined by having the best students and faculty and the education that goes along with that) – yet it has barely 1/3 or even 1/4 of the resources of the schools it is competing with. The situation has been gettting worse for 30 years (since 1980) and now, finally, Wesleyan is trying to get its financial house in order in order to have the endowment for need-blind going forward. The need-aware is only temporary.

      People argue that having need-aware is against Wesleyan’s moral obligations… well, if need-blind stays for now, even MORE loans will have to go into financial aid pacakages and then people will complain that Wes is not doing enough to support current students. You can’t have it both ways. Wesleyan simply does not have the money right now. It will, once it saves a bit and invests. For now though, there will be a few years where Wes has to be need-aware.

      What are the alternatives? The money has to come from somewhere, and Wesleyan simply doesn’t have it. You cut the budget any more and you cut faculty salaries, etc. Not good. It’s only for a few years. Get your parents to donate. Ask around. The problem can only be solved by throwing money at it.

      • student ’14

        Dude, literally no one is disputing that Wesleyan’s financial condition is poor. There simply isn’t enough evidence–or transparency–to suggest that a move as out of line with Wesleyan’s values as this is the only way to move forward. At least one detailed analysis of Wesleyan’s finances suggests otherwise: http://needblindfocus.group.wesleyan.edu/financial-information/

        If cutting need blind is absolutely necessary, you’d think Roth would provide some numbers to back it up, no? The only steps being taken to insure Wesleyan’s affordability are ones that directly undermine socioeconomic diversity on campus. That’s what’s worrisome.

      • student ’14

        Dude,
        literally no one is disputing that Wesleyan’s financial condition is
        poor. The problem is there simply isn’t enough evidence – or transparency – to suggest that
        a move as out of line with Wesleyan’s values as this is the only way to
        move forward. At least one detailed analysis of Wesleyan’s finances
        suggests otherwise: http://needblindfocus.group.wesleyan.edu/financial-information/

        If cutting need blind is absolutely necessary, you’d think Roth would
        provide some numbers to back it up, no? The only steps being taken to
        insure Wesleyan’s affordability are ones that directly undermine
        socioeconomic diversity on campus. That’s what’s worrisome.

      • student ’14

        Dude, literally no one is disputing that Wesleyan’s financial condition is

        poor. The problem is there simply isn’t enough evidence – or transparency – to
        suggest that a move as out of line with Wesleyan’s values as this is the only
        way to

        move forward. At least one detailed analysis of Wesleyan’s finances

        suggests otherwise: http://needblindfocus.group.we

        If cutting need blind is absolutely necessary, you’d think Roth would

        provide some numbers to back it up, no? The only steps being taken to

        insure Wesleyan’s affordability are ones that directly undermine

        socioeconomic diversity on campus. That’s what’s worrisome.

      • student ’14

        Dude, literally no one is disputing that Wesleyan’s financial condition is poor. The problem is there simply isn’t enough evidence – or transparency – to suggest that a move as out of line with Wesleyan’s values as this is the only way to move forward. At least one detailed analysis of Wesleyan’s finances suggests otherwise: http://needblindfocus.group.wesleyan.edu/financial-information/

        If cutting need blind is absolutely necessary, you’d think Roth would provide some numbers to back it up, no? The only steps being taken to insure Wesleyan’s affordability are ones that directly undermine socioeconomic diversity on campus. That’s what’s worrisome.

      • anon

        “People argue that having need-aware is against Wesleyan’s moral obligations… well, if need-blind stays for now, even MORE loans will have to go into financial aid pacakages and then people will complain that Wes is not doing enough to support current students.”
        It’s not clear or guaranteed that getting rid of need blind for 10-20 percent will improve financial aid packages for the ones who do get in. That money may very likely go to grow the endowment and other things. If you don’t have a problem with that- of course you are entitled to that opinion. but the argument by many is that this will make packages better for those who do get in, but it doesn’t seem to me that the new policy guarantees that at all.

        • alum

          I agree that Roth, etc. should provide some numbers and a timeframe, but the situation as they are explaining it is that in order to stay need-blind, loans in aid packages would skyrocket, to the point of being stupid where it wouldn’t be competitive with other schools’ offers. They are reducing need-blind to 90% in order to keep financial aid packages at they level they are currently at. This is all a plan to get Wesleyan’s endowment up, so that in the future, aid can be better.

          The number of students this policy hurts (for however many years it’s in place) is SMALLER than the number of students a stronger endowment will help over the long-run.

      • ahaoahaoahaoah

        Dude, literally no one is disputing that Wesleyan’s financial
        condition is poor. The problem is there simply isn’t enough evidence –
        or transparency – to suggest that a move as out of line with Wesleyan’s
        values as this is the only way to move forward. At least one detailed
        analysis of Wesleyan’s finances suggests otherwise:
        http://needblindfocus.group.wesleyan.edu/financial-information/ If
        cutting need blind is absolutely necessary, you’d think Roth would
        provide some numbers to back it up, no?

  • anon

    it’s maybe going to effect 10% of the incoming class, they will read all applications blind first and when they reach the financial aid limit, then the remaining apps will be read need aware. do you want wes to commit to meeting 100% of demonstrated need of matriculated students or be need aware for perhaps 1000 applicants? the focus is on the ensuring the kids that go here can afford it, as a result some potential candidates who cannot afford it may not come here. this is a smart financial move and won’t drastically change this campus. everyone needs to calm down.

    • anon.

      Agreed. The Roth administration is not trying to make Wesleyan ‘elitist’ or ruin the diversity of the student body. They are trying to avoid the huge amount of debt that many students are graduating with, and they are being honest with themselves about what they can and can’t afford. No one is trying to be evil here. Many students have seen cuts in their financial aid, and that’s also not ethical. Being promised aid and then having it taken away? I’d rather have the need awareness for the last 1000 applicants in any given class then have students see their financial aid be taken away.

      • Also anon.

        While both of these comments rightly point out that “no one is trying to be evil here,” not even the oft-maligned President Roth, the fact remains that a major cause of this policy change was the decision to gradually but significantly reduce annual endowment draw and put more of the money generated by the Annual Fund into the Endowment. This change was made as a temporary make-shift solution to enormous and long-standing financial woes and aims to return need-blind within ten or fifteen years, but nevertheless fails to recognize that need-blind admissions is an entirely non-commutable core value of Wesleyan for vast populations of the Wesleyan community.

      • Have you read the arguments in favor of preserving need blind? No one said Roth or the trustees are “trying to be evil”—more that they’re severely misunderestimatng [it’s a word now!] the value of socioeconomic diversity at Wesleyan and the extent to which students want a voice in decisions of this magnitude. A few questions worth asking:

        – In what way will cutting need-blind preserve students’ financial aid when the administration already presented it as a means of growing the endowment? Under what logic are both of these goals reconcilable, and if they’re not, which are we aiming for anyway?
        – Have you read the testimonies of students who wouldn’t have applied here were the school not need-blind? What is the point of decreasing student debt when the means explicitly discourage low-income students from even applying?
        – Why would any low-income students want to apply to Wes in the first place after learning that their financial needs put them at a disadvantage?
        – Are there solutions to Wesleyan’s affordability concerns that don’t directly undermine socioeconomic diversity? If so, why aren’t we employing them?
        – If it’s only a “temporary measure,” when will need-blind be restored? How do we know? What’s guaranteed?

        Without answers to these questions, the policy seems far from ethical.

        • anon.

          Have you read the countless times that Roth has said that he believes that this policy, in the long run, will preserve that socioeconomic diversity? The way the system is now benefits the very rich (who don’t need aid) and the very poor (who receive the most in aid/ full scholarship) but chokes out the middle class (who either get stuck with loans or have to turn away because their financial aid package is too meager). This policy helps those in the middle class.
          -In answer to your first question: I can’t possibly reconcile giving unlimited financial aid when the university’s endowment is struggling. How can you give money if you don’t have it? The reason a school like Harvard doesn’t have these issues is because they have an endowment in the billions.
          -There will never be 0 low-income students applying here, or anywhere. That’s not to say it won’t deter them, it will. It will also cause some to not apply here. But don’t they deserve to go to the school (Amherst, in your example) that can afford to have them? Wesleyan would be dishonest and grossly unethical if they said ‘look, we can’t afford to give everyone the financial aid they need, but let’s admit ’em anyway, slap a bunch of loans on ’em, and send them into their future with $40,000 in debt.’
          -When Roth assumed presidency in 2007, he cut out $200 million in capital improvement for the University. The greatest expenses for Wesleyan today are staff compensation, faculty compensation, and financial aid. Wherever you make the cut, it’s gonna suck.
          -We don’t know. We can only trust. We can hope it works, we can hope our financial woes cease sooner rather than later. But before then, low-income students will continue to be admitted and they WILL receive financial aid.

          • Guest

            Hey, middle class student here. I wasn’t going to be able to return because of the cost. Then my financial aid doubled. I understand your complaints, and I wish that the money came from elsewhere, but this policy actually kept me at Wes. It’s fine if you oppose the need-aware system, but I won’t join you unless I hear some alternative policy proposals that will allow me to come back next year.

          • This policy did not keep you at Wes. It hasn’t gone into effect yet.