An Editorial: “Campus Editors for Need-Blind”

Last week, members of Wesleying and The Argus’s editorial staffs collaborated on a joint editorial regarding the whole need-blind thing. The piece appeared in Friday’s Argus, and while it’s not quite as poetic as Martin Benjamin ’57’s latest (which uses the phrase “fat-fannied corps of social engineers” and refers to President Roth as “Mike the Ripper”), it nonetheless appears below. If you don’t think opinion pieces belong on Wesleying, go ahead and skip this one.

Next week, Wesleying will host a live forum with President Roth regarding the need-blind issue and general concerns. Check back for details later in the week.

As the editors of the two most prominent news publications on campus, The Wesleyan Argus and Wesleying, we’d like to make public our support for the movement to preserve need-blind admissions at Wesleyan University. Though we have never written a joint editorial before, we think it is now imperative that we use our platforms on campus to show solidarity with this cause. We’ve been concerned with how few details we have been provided regarding financial considerations and administrative decisions. We’ve been more concerned by the alarming shortsightedness of this decision—one that severely compromises the value Wesleyan places on socioeconomic diversity.

Last spring, both Wesleying and The Argus covered the Affordability Forum, an open meeting with President Roth that was organized by the WSA. Both of our publications reported that Roth mentioned the idea of eliminating need-blind admissions. However, from our perspectives as reporters, it seemed clear that this was not a decision the administration was seriously considering for the near future.

We were misled. In late May, Wesleying reported that the Board of Trustees was voting to scale back need-blind admissions beginning with the class of 2017. In short, the Office of Admissions will now take into account an applicant’s ability to pay once a financial aid cap is reached. There was no formal announcement in time for students, faculty, or alumni to consider the University’s financial woes and join in the conversation. Wesleying only learned of the policy via members of the WSA Executive Committee.

In covering this issue, we have noticed a disconcerting tendency for the administration to pass over community suggestions about how to improve the University’s financial situation. Several times—including in Roth’s recent interview with The Argus—we have been told that the University considered all options.  Roth called this “the least-bad option.” The lesser of all evils. “This is a business decision, and it’s terrible,” Roth declared.

Frankly, we are not convinced. The University did not consider all options. The administration made the decision during Senior Week, when students were either off campus or otherwise occupied with graduation festivities. The administration moved forward without reaching out to alumni for additional support.

“Where were the calls to fundraise letting people know that if [x amount] weren’t raised then need-blind admissions might have to be sacrificed?” Estrella Lopez ’07 asked in a comment on President Roth’s blog. “We are constantly hit with artificial cries for urgency that we have to give by end of this challenge or during GOLD giving month, but here, where there was real urgency, with real consequences if we didn’t act, we instead got silence.”

Lopez is rightly outraged. Given the magnitude of the decision, that lack of communication is troubling. It’s also telling. The administration has shown itself unwilling to facilitate a productive flow of ideas regarding the budget.

Beyond our extensive network of alumni, the University failed to reach out even to current students for ideas and input. In a June 6 blog post, WSA President Zachary Malter ’13 called for the creation of a Student Budget Sustainability Task Force to find alternative solutions to the University’s financial problems.

“Wesleyan students are smart and creative problem-solvers and with the necessary information and scholarship, may be able to come up with some powerful ideas to improve the budget sustainability and affordability of Wesleyan,” Malter wrote.

It’s high time for the University to move beyond what Malter has so aptly termed “token transparency” and consider in good faith the ideas of its own community members. In speaking to students, we have been consistently impressed with their creativity, commitment, and wherewithal in their efforts to reverse the administration’s decision and form a tenable solution to the University’s financial troubles.

Among the students and alumni protesting this policy, there has been no shortage of ideas. Quite the contrary. Some, like Lopez, have suggested an issue-specific fund-raising drive aimed to restore need-blind admissions. Others, like Jesse Ross-Silverman ’13, have advocated for another pricing model entirely, one that would make tuition costs proportional to families’ incomes. At the UOC/WSA-organized meeting to discuss the policy, several students voiced the opinion that preserving need-blind admissions is more of a priority than certain expenses that the University has deemed essential to the “Wesleyan experience.”

Roth has repeatedly assured students that if a better option to allay budgetary concerns is proposed, he will jump at the opportunity to save need-blind admissions. But he has failed to give students the opportunity to give meaningful input on this issue. In the open forum, Roth vaguely mentioned the idea of scaling back need-blind administrations, but he has not made good on promises of student input or financial candor in the actual decision to end the policy.

While the lack of communication and collaboration involved in the making of this decision are disturbing to us as journalists and community members, we are most troubled by the policy’s implications for future classes. Besides explicitly rejecting students who cannot pay, the University’s new policy will create a culture in which students from low-income backgrounds are discouraged from applying in the first place. As Leonid Liu and Benny Docter (both ’14) pointed out in their opinion piece for The Argus, the policy will directly compromise the pool of students that apply to Wesleyan. Both said that, despite their families’ different financial situations, they would not have applied if this policy were in place in the fall of 2009.

“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,” wrote Liu and Docter in their opinion piece. “Or, you may be a great applicant, but the deciding factor in accepting you is your money.”

Director of University Communications William Holder, writing on behalf of the administration, acknowledged this likelihood.

“This is a legitimate concern,” he wrote in response to a list of questions posed by Malter. “We don’t have any evidence [that this policy will not alter the pool of applicants].”

Both The Argus and Wesleying are committed to continuing to cover this issue in a thoughtful, comprehensive manner. However, we also feel the need to clarify our strong personal support for the reinstatement of a need-blind admissions policy.

As publications that aim to accurately portray student life and concerns, we value the diversity of our staffs and believe this policy will negatively affect the University’s ability to draw in students with a variety of viewpoints, backgrounds, and life experiences. We also question the University’s seriousness in its commitment to looking for new solutions and in working toward restoring a need-blind admissions process.

We firmly believe that this decision will have serious and negative ramifications for our unique campus culture and student body. More than anything, we encourage all students to inform themselves and make their own decisions about what they find fundamental to their Wesleyan education.

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  • ’12

    If anything, please read this by Gil Skillman. It’s not a decision to be made from the heart, but the mind. http://needblindfocus.group.wesleyan.edu/2012/09/16/professor-gil-skillman-on-the-socioeconomics-of-need-blind-admissions-at-wesleyan/

    • Batte_A

      Mind explaining why you think these things (deciding from the heart and the mind) are mutually exclusive here?

      • alum

        Because deciding from the heart puts Wesleyan in an even tighter bind financially, while thinking from the mind will allow Wesleyan to support need-blind more sustainably in the future. If Wesleyan can grow its endowment, it won’t have to face this situation again. (see: every wealthier peer school not debating ending need-blind – all of whom got wealthier because they were more conservative with spending)

        • Batte_A

          I’mma have to object to your false dichotomy here. In the short term, one could argue that the net losses from scaling back need-blind for the moment and thus explicitly fostering the growth of inequality exceeds the gains of sitting on a marginally larger pile of cash. In the long term, there’s absolutely no guarantee that “need blind” will actually return, and if the neoliberalism of the last few decades is any guide, it likely won’t.

          Filtering out financially disadvantaged students is absolutely not the only way to address Wesleyan’s increasingly unsustainable practices. There are a few strands that run through all these There Is No Alternative arguments, but maybe the most salient one here is that they’re unilaterally false. We have options. The administration hasn’t considered them all. WE certainly haven’t considered them all. Now seems like a good time to start.

          Oh, and as for Gil Skill’s editorial, I know that some people have been reading this as supportive of the current course the administration’s taking, but I’m not one of them. HIghlighting a lot of what’s “wrong” with Wesleyan economically does not translate to an endorsement of any and all courses of action presented as attempts to address the issues. Some solutions are terrible solutions.

          • alum

            Actually, if Wesleyan gains the $100 million in endowment (in today’s dollars) then need-blind will, in fact, come back. Roth said so himself. Reducing the endowment draw will help the endowment grow faster so that need-blind can return sooner. Again, think of it this way – Wesleyan is currently going to exclude X students’ apps from being read need-blind. If Wes gets conservative with spending, then need-blind will be restored sooner, allowing Y students’ apps to be read need-blind (as a result of need-blind reinstated) in the future. If you don’t think Y is a bigger number than X, I suggest you rethink time frames here. This is a decision for Wesleyan’s future. Is it at the expense of Wesleyan of today? Damn straight. it sucks, but the alternative is worse. Overspending is what got us into this mess in the first place. If you want to argue where to cut, fine, but we need to cut the budget.

            What about Skillman’s arguments are you refuting? It’s pretty cut and dry. Offer an alternative. I haven’t seen one.

          • Batte_A

            Again, you’re assuming that need blind is actually going to return at some point in the near future, which is not at all guaranteed. You also haven’t established that 1) maintaining or (if necessary) increasing the endowment draw spells doom for Wesleyan’s future or 2) reducing the endowment draw is the only significant way for Wesleyan to start being “fiscally responsible”. What about significantly increasing revenue – for example, a major capital campaign, potentially explicitly linked to precarious status of need blind?

            I’ll be writing about a handful of alternatives I’ve barely seen addressed soon. Don’t let me put it off!