Complete Video: Faculty Duke It Out Over Need-Blind, Financial Aid

Just call it Skillman v. Glenn and get your popcorn ready.

Last Thursday after class, I moseyed over to Shanklin 107 (stirring fond memories of freshman year Biodiversity class) for what I took to be a faculty panel discussion on “Transparency, Admissions Policy, and Financial Aid”more succinctly, need-blind. When the discussion began, Professors Lim, Rouse, and Long, representing varying views, also seemed to interpret it as a cordial panel discussion on the issues surrounding need-blind. Seated at the far end of the panel, though, Professors Glenn and Skillman took it to be a full-throttle, boisterous debatesparring over the meanings of a need-aware policy, university transparency, and whether or not Wesleyan can afford to remain need-blind (Glenn says yes, Skillman no). Both presented articulate and passionate positions (taking opposite positions), and both got pretty riled up. Suffice it to say audience members (my estimate would be 40 or 45 students) benefited from witnessing this direct confrontation of competing narratives.

Continuing Wesleying’s recent tradition of ‘Posting Videos of Important Shit Filmed By Ben Doernberg ’13,’ we’ve got video footage of the entire conversation below or on the YouTubes. Scroll past the jump for a more detailed rundown on who said what.

As Professor Glenn opened his remarks, “I guess reasonable people can disagree.”

Here’s a list of the faculty involved in the policy discussion, with (extremely brief and perhaps simplified) summaries of their opinions and remarks:

Elvin Lim
Associate Professor of Government, Tutor for College of Social Studies (and frequent blogger)
Professor Lim’s views seem to be the most moderate of all the panelists. Opening with the words “I’m here to learn,” Lim offers tenuous support for the policy shift while acknowledging that the administration did a poor job of selling it (“we really found out after the fact”). Lim suggests that the goal is to return to a need-blind policy when possible and analyzes the choice in terms of an “inter-temporal tradeoff” in order to “create an institution capable of perpetuating that brand.” He concludes: “In the end, I think this policy is correct. It may not have been properly articulated, but in the end it sounds right that we privilege our capacity to make that inter-generational tradeoff and to be able to have a need-blind policy in the future perhaps in the sacrifice of not having need-blindness today.”

Joseph Rouse
Professor of Philosophy, Chair of Science in Society, Professor of Environmental Studies
Professor Rouse defends the decision to scale back need-blind and complements many of Skillman’s arguments. “I’ve been at Wesleyan for 31 years, and for 30 years I’ve been a very strong support of the need-blind policy,” he begins. “That changed last spring.” Naturally, Rouse frames his conclusions in philosophical terms: “Need-blind is a means to those ends and it has become a means that has become counterproductive to those ends,” by which he means that a need-blind Wesleyan has decreased the financial aid packages it offers and “had a major negative impact on the diversity and equality of access.” In conclusion, Rouse asserts, “it’s precisely in order to improve access across a socioeconomic spectrum to Wesleyan that we have to get rid of need-blind and we have to move, as limited an extent as possible, to a need-aware policy.”

Daniel Long
Assistant Professor of Sociology
Professor Long specializes in Sociology of Education and Educational Policy and Educational and Economic Inequalities, so it’s not surprising that he frames his support for need-blind in terms of his academic expertise (and data—lots and lots of data). As he begins, “I want to situate this in terms of trends of universities and income inequality in the U.S.” In brief, with assistance from a Powerpoint, he argues: “University policies have increased income inequality under two decades of need blind admissions among selective colleges and universities. Inequality will get worse with ‘need aware policies.'” Arguing that a large aspect of rising income inequality is “who can go to college,” Long concludes: “If we end those [need-blind] policies, it’ll only get worse. What we really need are policies that are affirmative action based on income and then make the appropriate sacrifices at the University level.”

Gilbert Skillman
Professor of Economics, Tutor for College of Social Studies, mean banjo player
Professor Skillman is the most forceful voice in favor of the policy shift: he supports the administration’s decision, and he has already explained why in this widely circulated memo, which Skillman later defended in The Argus. (During the forum, Skillman mentions he was dismayed that some students viewed his memo as a conversation-stopper, adding, “Let’s think about creative solutions.”) In brief, Skillman argues that need-blind has “force[d] the financial aid to become the tail that wags the budgetary dog,” that it’s financially unsustainable, that Wesleyan has financially supported it by offering less generous financial aid packages than other schools, that this explains why the percentage of middle-class students has decreased over the past few decades, and that “you’re getting less and less for your tuition dollars every year.” Skillman also adds that Wesleyan is already need-aware for internationals and transfers, so “qualitatively, nothing’s changed.” (Skillman also responds to Lim’s point about returning to need-blind, arguing that it’s not reasonable to expect to do so any time soon.) He acknowledges that administrators haven’t been transparent (“the faculty complains about the same thing”) but concludes, “The administration was courageous enough to make a very hard decision that every previous administration has shied away from.”

Brian Glenn ’91
Visiting Professor of Government in the 2011-2012 year, Wesleyan alumnus
Professor Glenn speaks out passionately against the policy shift, at one point banging his fists on the table, urging students to “Fight it! Fight it! Fight it!” and suggesting that they create a legal entity with a charter whose money will go to Wesleyan once it restores need-blind. Glenn phrases much of his argument around the notion of “First Things,” or fundamental values, arguing that Wesleyan still spends like a wealthy institution (“we can’t afford to be need-blind, but we’re raising money for a new Center For Civic Engagement”), that it hasn’t made any genuine cuts, that it deals with budgetary woes by “picking on the weakest in society,” and that there is no plan in place to return to need-blind admissions in the future (“if you allow this to happen now, it is gone”). Interestingly, Glenn is the only member of the panel who isn’t currently employed by the University and also the only one who provides the alumni perspective: he’s old enough to remember the last time students demonstrated in support of need-blind, and at one point he pulls up the Wesleyan Class of 1991 Facebook page to point out how some of his classmates would be willing to donate more to preserve need-blind. “The way that this administration deals with its student and alumni can have a dramatic impact on the amount of money it raises,” Glenn concludes. “Wesleyan’s alumni body has never been informed that they’re ending need-blind. They haven’t tried to raise the money to save need-blind admissions. They just did it.” Glenn argues that Wesleyan could raise the money needed to preserve need-blind by reaching out to alumni more effectively and “putting ‘First Things’ first.”

These views aren’t expressed in isolation. The faculty members confront each other and respond, smiling and scowling and occasionally banging their fists. The full video from the forum is available here, and my rough notes and transcriptions can be accessed here. If it’s of interest to you, be sure to watch past the opening remarks—the discussion gets fairly heated once the floor is opened to questions. Special shout-out to Em Trambert ’14, Zach Malter ’13, and Katie McConnell ’13 for organizing it.

Oh, yeah, there was also an open Q&A  with the Board of Trustees the following day. If you missed it, just ask me or A-Batte about it in person.

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  • Grossman

    You do not mess with Skillman.

  • anon

    i thought glenn showed the facebook page to show how his classmate said that he would donate money in order to boost financial aid–even though wesleyan is cutting need blind–and this was an example of how the school hasn’t properly tried to raise money from an alumni basis to make it possible to hold onto need blind

    • Truth—he showed me the more pissed off posts after the panel. (Edited the post.)

      • anon

        Got it

  • D_M_Z

    bottled water?

  • Brian J. Glenn ’91

    Dr. Glenn certainly is a handsome fellow!