“Your comment is awaiting moderation…”: an alumni response to Michael Roth
Calls for a boycott of the administration’s capital campaign have re-emerged this week as President Michael Roth continues to solicit donations in the name of financial aid. Alums are refusing to contribute on the grounds that doing so would be a vote of confidence in increasingly reactionary, discriminatory policies. As of now, there remains no plan for Wesleyan to return to need blind admissions.
The following statement was submitted in response to Roth’s latest blog post – where it is still “awaiting moderation” (don’t hold your breath). We are posting it here in the meantime so you can see it. A similar statement has emerged on a Facebook group for recent alumni.
Support Wesleyan — Refuse to Donate!
President Roth mentions twice in his “Giving Tuesday” appeal that we can support financial aid at Wesleyan by donating to the University today.
What Michael Roth doesn’t mention is that 68% of every gift earmarked for financial aid gets drafted into the general operating budget, and only 32% of such gifts actually goes to improving the University’s financial aid budget. This is a dismaying betrayal of trust.
It is brazen for Michael Roth and the Wesleyan PR folks to encourage us to support financial aid at Wesleyan the year after Roth and the Board took unprecedented steps to erode access and decrease spending on financial aid, by ending Wesleyan’s policy of admitting students on a “Need-Blind” basis (wherein students were admitted based solely on their promise as applicants, without knowledge of their ability to pay).
This year’s freshman class, the first admitted under the new “Need-Aware” admissions policy, which actively discriminates against poor students, contains 6% fewer students receiving grant aid, 4% fewer first generation college students, and 3% fewer black students, as well as smaller percentages of students from everywhere outside of New England than the previous year’s class. (Citation)
Wesleyan’s annual Financial Report was published last week, and the endowment is up 12%, if you exclude the $28 million siphoned off to pay for current operations, but add the pledges from the “This Is Why” campaign. Additionally, the university took in $11 million more in income than it spent in the fiscal year that ended last June. This should be good news for all those who are disgruntled by the need-blind situation. We’re on our way to having enough money to spend on basic operations, and maybe return to need-blind. This won’t happen soon, but it’s at least a positive step forward.
In Fiscal Year 2012/13:
- Alumni, parents, friends, lovers gave $42 million in cash to Wesleyan, an $11 million increase from the prior year
- 46% of alumni donated funds
- $55 million in new gifts (cash, pledges and bequests)
- Financial aid totaling $55 million increased approximately 7%, resulting in an undergraduate tuition discount rate of 36%, an increase from 35% in FY 2011/12
- A total of $308 million toward the campaign’s overall goal of $400 million
This courtesy of Evan Bieder ’15:
After a brief hiatus, Need Blind Wes is back!
For those who don’t know, in 2012 Wesleyan terminated its need blind admissions policy. As a result, the socio-economic status of about 10% of applicants for the Class of 2017 played a role in their acceptance/rejection. Last year, many students pushed back against this new policy (through a banner drop, an occupation of a Board of Trustees meeting, a homecoming protest, and a number of other actions/discussions archived on the Need Blind website), but the policy was implemented nonetheless.
This discriminatory policy has already impacted Wesleyan’s socio-economic diversity. From the class of 2016 to the class of 2017 the number of students receiving financial aid decreased from 48% to 42%, the number of students receiving grant aid decreased from 44% to 37%, and the number of first generation four-year college students decreased from 16% to 13%.
Though all of you are likely familiar with the need-blind debate last year and campus conversations full of blatant classism surrounding the subject, you may or may not have seriously examined how this classism runs rampant through Wesleyan University and pervades the experiences of its student body and administration.
We implore you to answer this question:
Have you ever experienced classism at Wes? Tell us about it.
Here’s the form. Some questions after the jump to get you thinking:
Welcome to utopia! Er, sorta. Well, not really. Actually not at all. Like all the world, good old Wesleyan is plagued with many social ills. Some are more intractable than others, some more terrible than others. I am not here to pass judgment. I am here only to give you the quick run-down on
all most of the things people at Wes have been getting upset about of late. To avoid showing favoritism I put these in random order (literally). Please feel free to add/question/editorialize in the comments below.
This is the Wrath Update. First up:
At Wes, University Policy prohibits the use of chalk “on sidewalks or buildings.” For many students — though definitely not all — this constitutes a violation of the right to free speech and the battle over the chalking policy has raged fiercely for over a decade. On the 3rd of October 2002, then-President Doug Bennet ’59 put forth a moratorium on Wesleyan’s storied tradition of chalking, a moratorium which was theoretically temporary but was never lifted. In those days, you could spend an hour reading chalkings on the hundred-yard walk from PAC to what’s now Usdan. Chalking was primarily used as an empowerment medium for the queer community, but, of course, a few individuals took things a little too far. I do not need to get into the details; you go to Wesleyan so you can imagine it. We still occasionally witness hateful and hurtful public messages around campus.
To: Wesleying listserv
Subject: Schmooze with Mad Men Creator Matthew Weiner ’87 at Financial Aid Campaign Kickoff Event in NYC; 100% of Proceeds Benefit Financial Aid
Do you think this email is worth posting on Wesleying? See below.
Six months ago, I posted that a newly conceived Student Budget Sustainability Task Force, the brainchild of WSA President Zachary Malter ’13, would be forming in the fall of 2012 and eventually articulating formal recommendations to President Roth and the Board of Trustees. Malter pieced together the concept quickly in the wake of widespread opposition to a need-aware Wesleyan.
As promised, the student-run committee has “worked extensively to evaluate the suitability of the recent move to a capped financial aid budget and need-aware admissions policy,” and the members have formulated a memorandum to the committee explaining their process thus far and the specific proposals that are under consideration. These aren’t their formal recommendations. Rather, the task force writes, “it is meant to spark conversation and debate before our final report.”
On President Malter’s request, I’m reposting the memorandum in full. You can also find it in PDF form here.
A few weeks ago, commenting on the New York Times’ coverage of Wesleyan’s financial aid woes, we wrote that this was likely the first many alumni were hearing of changes to Wesleyan’s need-blind status. Following a Q&A with the Board of Trustees in November, chairman Joshua Boger ’73 assured A-Batte and me that the great majority of alumni are aware of cuts to need-blind and enthusiastically approve. A new petition by Lana Wilson ’05 suggests otherwise.
“I don’t think any program, building, or department is worth sacrificing an economically diverse student body,” writes Wilson in the petition, which is personally addressed to President Roth via Change.org. “I and everyone who has signed this letter hopes that you will do the right thing, and continue Wesleyan’s practice of admitting the best students possible, rather than those with the most personal wealth.”
“My intent was originally for alumni to sign it, but I’m fine with current students signing it as well,” Wilson explained to me in an email. “Then my plan was to send President Roth a hard copy of the letter with all the signatures at the end.” According to Wilson, Roth receives an email for every signature the petition receives, including any personal message that’s attached. As of writing, the petition has amassed some 246 signatures, ranging from current students to a diverse scattering of alumni, including Beasts of the Southern Wild producer Dan Janvey ’06. The individual messages are particularly affecting. Many speculate that they wouldn’t have been able to attend Wesleyan without need-blind admissions. “Wesleyan falls far short in alumni giving of its competition and this is an issue those of us who love Wesleyan feel strongly about and would impact upon giving,” writes one alum. “Stop being assholes,” chimes in another:
What’s the Twittersphere saying about the Times piece? Click past the jump.
A weekend New York Times article covers Wesleyan’s change in admissions policy, giving a national and international platform to some of the activism surrounding need blind here on campus. With little communication to the alumni and larger Wesleyan community about the recent change in admissions policy, for many alums this could be the first they hear of the policy shift, a topic we’ve been abuzz with for months. Not only did my mom text me this morning to check the article out, but other people are wildly sharing it, too: it is listed in the top-emailed articles on the NYT website, and the tweeting world is hot on the topic.
The article cites financial instability as threatening diversity at small elite colleges, specifically Wesleyan and Grinnell. Small schools like our own have been steadily raising tuition, while families are increasingly unable to meet rising costs in a weak economy. Richard Perez-Pena writes,
As a result, more students need financial aid than did a few years ago, they need much more of it on average, and colleges have fewer resources with which to provide it, though a major expansion of the federal Pell Grant program has made up some of the difference.
Wesleyan is described as having “had the most heated recent debate.” Disappointingly, then, no students are quoted in the piece, but President Roth gives a shout out to student activism, saying “I applaud the students’ commitment to our values,” and adds, “I did not think that the economic model we were using would be sustainable in even the midterm, over the next decade.” This is out of character given his recent confrontations with chalking Wesleyan students and Nemo Allen ’12 from Democracy Now!. Links in the NYT article direct readers to two Argus articles about student activism surrounding the barge-in at the Trustee meeting and protest at the Homecoming football game. Additional coverage here and here. Added to this semester’s memorably heated moments—but unmentioned in the Times—are the artistic chalk bomb, Alumni letter asking to withhold alumni donations, and parent assembly infiltrations.
NPR has a story this week on how the financial cancer attacking many elite private colleges—that is, more money coming out than in—is affecting schools like Grinnell College, MIT, and, of course, Wes. The focus is on recent struggles over need-blind admissions. Grinnell seems to be an unusual case; despite not being in the same admissions tier as Wes (with an acceptance rate of 43%), it has enjoyed a rosy financial situation thanks in no small part to Warren Buffett sitting on its board. This has allowed it to pay 60% of its students’ costs, which is a higher rate than any other school except Harvard.
Even Grinnell, however, is showing the first signs of trouble, and says it has reached the point where it has had to switch some of its grants to loans.
“We don’t get in a room and say, ‘OK, do we give more aid here or do we give a raise to a professor over here?’ It’s never that stark, but behind the curtain, what’s happening is this tradeoff,” says Kington.
The towering monolith of MIT, meanwhile, told NPR it would never ever ever in a million years end need-blind admissions. “That’s one of our rock-solid principles. It’s sort of built into our DNA,” said MIT Chancellor Eric Grimson. Hopefully we will not have to see the unsustainable financial models and practices of these elite universities bring them, in 10 or 20 years, to the point Wesleyan is at now. NPR says the end of need-blind policies has sustained “some backlash” here—a big understatement.