Need-Blind Debate Escalates

by Daniel Greenberg, News Editor

During the Sept. 23 meeting of the Board of Trustees at the Daniel Family Commons (DFC), several students attempted to gain entry into the meeting to protest the lack of student involvement in the decision to end the University’s need-blind admissions policy. Students have organized several actions in support of need-blind admissions, including this protest and the dissemination of posters and a video about the need-blind issue. Because of the student support for the revoked policy, both a Wesleying-run forum with President Michael Roth and a Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) meeting on need-blind were organized.

“This was to show that there are students who care about having need-blind,” said Cesar Chavez ’15. “Whether they are affected or not is irrelevant. The point is we want need-blind back.”

Approximately 45 students attended the protest outside the Trustees meeting; the students held up a banner which read “Bring Us Into the Conversation.” Though Public Safety (PSafe) Officers prevented many of the students involved from entering the DFC, a few students were able to gain entry and communicate some of their concerns about the University’s change in policy.

“I think our goal was to demonstrate to the Board that this is an issue that students care about,” said Ben Doernberg ’13. “That people understand that it affects them and the campus and I think it was really effective at doing that. The Board was ready to listen to some of what we were saying… I think we got [the message] across that this is something that matters to students.”

After speaking with some of the students, the Trustees decided to have a scheduled meeting with all interested students about the decision to end need-blind admissions. This meeting will occur during the next Board of Trustees retreat in November.

“[The event] showed the widespread feeling on campus that need-blind needs to be hashed out in a public and transparent way,” said Benny Docter ’14. “We took this feeling to the Board of Trustees, they heard it, and they agreed to meet with us in November, and in that way I think it was a huge success.”

Other students who participated in this event took a more skeptical perspective on the reception from the Trustees.

“I would have liked a more productive direct action,” Anwar Batte ’13 said. “[I wish] we had a conversation with the trustees that involved more of us explaining our perspectives and less of them explaining to us that now wasn’t the right time to [do] this [kind of thing] and mention other appropriate channels we should go through. Because I think a big problem with this decision was that these channels are designed to divert student concern, interest, or power rather than actually channeling it into influence.”

PSafe officers prevented many of the students from entering the meeting to speak with the Trustees, and one PSafe officer recorded the students’ entrance with a video camera. Director of Public Safety Dave Meyer stated that it is policy for officers to go to potentially controversial meetings and record any students who act out of line. Even with PSafe interference in the protest, no student expressed any annoyance toward the officers involved in the event.

“They were just doing their jobs,” Doernberg said. “They were told by someone in the Board of Trustees meeting that they were supposed to remove the students, and I think that, given their instructions and their job, they were extremely respectful and polite. They could have used force to move people, and I think they were extremely professional, and they acted as I would have wanted them to.”

Several students have distributed posters around the University and made a video in support of need-blind admissions. Both the posters and the video asked students whether they would have been admitted or chosen to apply to the University under this new need-aware policy. Many of the students involved expressed generally positive perspectives.

“I think the video was well done,” Chavez said. “It shows that side of Wesleyan that usually doesn’t reflect what people generally think of Wesleyan…I think it shows the other aspect, that there are low-income students here. I myself am a low-income student. But I’d like to see more than just the video, [and] for students to speak about the issues of classism and to not be intimidated or silenced simply because they’re low-income.”

The WSA also convened on Sept. 23 to specifically discuss what role the WSA would play in the continued discussion about need-blind admissions on campus.

“The point of the discussion was to figure out what our mandate is and which course we should pursue the most,” said WSA Financial and Facilities Committee Chair Andrew Trexler ’14.

The WSA did not ultimately decide what specific role it would play in the need-blind discussion. However, students did offer several perspectives on the issue and what potential actions the Assembly could take. They also discussed outreach to peer universities and alumni as well as maintaining a good relationship with the administration.

“I think there were strong points that were communicated all across the evening,” Docter said. “But I can’t speak for the entire Assembly because we didn’t vote on anything.”

At the discussion, Trexler also explained the financial situation behind the administration’s decision to end need-blind admissions at the University. He specifically mentioned the fact that the University endowment per student is $200,000 compared to peer university endowments per student, which range from $300,000 to $800,000.

“We’re operating in a much leaner way than we were in the past,” Trexler said. “But the administration and the Board of Trustees feel that even so we are not in a strong financial position, especially in comparison to our peer schools. So they made the decision to cut the next big, growing thing, which was financial aid. So the way it works is that financial aid will be capped.”

Several non-members of the WSA also attended this discussion. Many of these students, including Alma Sanchez-Eppler ’14, have previously done activism work relating to the need-blind policy.

“I was glad to see that the WSA was asking questions about how they could be supportive of students who are doing this work, not just [thinking about] how they could do this work,” Sanchez-Eppler said.

In response to the student opposition to the ending of need-blind admissions, President Michael Roth agreed to be a part of a Wesleying-run forum to discuss the reasons behind the change in policy. Yesterday, Sept. 24, around one hundred students gathered in PAC 002 to participate in this forum. Wesleying Managing Editor Zach Schonfeld ’13 said that the event had a larger turnout than they expected.

“[They were] spilling out into the hallways,” Schonfeld wrote in an email to The Argus. “It was a really impressive display of how much students care.”

Wesleying blogged from the event, and it was also live-streamed online.

After Roth’s introduction and overview of the collected financial data, students were given the chance to ask questions. Wesleying staff also read aloud questions that were emailed to the blog prior to the forum.

Throughout the forum, Roth emphasized his goal of increasing the number of scholarships awarded to students, in contrast to the focus on need-blind admissions. According to Roth, need-blind is a commonly misunderstood label.

“We want to give a greater percentage of the budget to scholarships so that more students who can’t pay full tuition have access to Wesleyan,” Roth said. “I think that’s the bottom line.”

He also stressed the importance of recruiting students from diverse backgrounds as well as international students to the University.

One student asked what alternatives to current reforms were considered. Roth said that he dismissed plans to cut libraries, continue salary freezes, continue to increase the size of the student body, cease work with programs such as QuestBridge, and other alternative measures.

An online questioner asked Roth to clarify if the new policy is actually temporary, and if so, why there has been no timeline for the return to need-blind admissions.

“I don’t know what the need will be, that’s what need-blind means,” Roth replied. “If next year 80 percent of the students need full scholarships, we would have to close. So I can’t tell you how much money we would need to do that, because by definition I don’t know.”

Another highly debated topic was the extent of University fundraising efforts and contact with alumni.

“Where was the communication on this vitally important issue when there was still a chance to do something about it?” an online contributor wrote.

Roth maintained that communication and information on the new policy has been available since earlier this year.

“The Board of Trustees discussed this possibility in February,” Roth said. “I discussed it in an open meeting with the WSA directly after that and then [again] in an open meeting forum in March. We do ask for money, as you will find out right after you graduate, if you haven’t already.”

Several students expressed dissatisfaction with the answers Roth provided.

“He’s really good at redirection and reframing,” Jesse Ross-Silverman ’13 said.

Docter agreed.

“People asked specifically about the University’s decision to not have a capital campaign aimed at protecting the need-blind decision,” Docter wrote in an email to The Argus. “Roth wasn’t terribly clear on this point.”

Other students also cited this instance as an example of Roth’s failure to effectively answer students’ questions.

“Roth skirted the question by trying to cite instances of what he perceived to be efforts at transparency,” Laignee Barron ’13 wrote in an email to The Argus. “I felt like Roth completely missed the heart of the matter and [I] told him so, asking why alumni had not been contacted to donate in the context of fundraising to save need-blind before the current policy was put in motion, and why such measures were not occurring as we speak. I also pointed out that many alumni I have spoken to (and many soon to be grads) have expressed that they will not be donating to the school given the new take on need-blind and the perceived moral/social implications of the decision.”

With the continuing objection to need-blind admissions, some students question whether or not the forums and discussions with administrators will actually affect the policy.

“I don’t really think that us asking him questions is really going to change anything,” Marjorie Hunt ’15 said. “I think it just makes students feel like something is happening.”

Meanwhile, some students who have taken action in support of need-blind admissions plan to continue their work. The Direct Action Committee, which was created to support the reinstatement of the University’s need-blind policy, has not yet announced any future plans or events. However, several members did indicate that they hoped to continue taking action until need-blind admissions was reestablished on campus, even if they were unable to succeed immediately.

“Personally I think this campaign is going to be a very long one,” Chavez said. “I don’t think we’ll be able to restore this for the Class of 2017, but I think we might be able to do this for 2018 or 2019.”

 

Additional reporting contributed by Editor-in-Chief Abbey Francis, Assistant News Editor Lily Baggott, and Contributing Writer Tess Morgan.

  • alum

    I'd bet the upcoming campaign (which is in the quiet phase) IS going to be aimed at need-blind (if not explicitly, then as "financial aid endowment") and that Roth doesn't want to jump the gun before the official public announcement, which has been stated as likely to be spring 2013...

  • hey

    I guess Wesleyan is just making more room for the 1%.

  • http://www.wesward.org/2012/09/activists-notebook-women-men-and-speaking-up/ Wesward

    [...] Tuesday, the Argus’s major front-page article was about Wesleyan’s most recent need-blind activism. I’m keeping up on the need-blind [...]

  • http://wesleying.org/2012/12/02/fit-to-print-wesleyan-need-blind-struggles-covered-in-nyt/ Fit To Print: Wesleyan Need Blind Struggles Covered in NYT – Wesleying

    [...] 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 [...]

  • http://campusadv.com/access/aid-changes-raise-issue-of-diversity-at-colleges/ Aid Changes Raise Issue of Diversity at Colleges

    [...] with about 3,000 students, has had the most heated recent debate over the issue, with protests by students who said a change in admissions policy would hurt campus [...]

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