Roosevelt Institution sponsors conference

National policymakers and top university officials will convene in New Haven next month for a conference on socioeconomic diversity in higher education, Dean of Admissions Jeff Brenzel said Monday night.

The conference will be hosted by Yale’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions and the President’s Office, and is sponsored by the Roosevelt Institution, a national student think tank launched at Yale and Stanford University. The conference, which will take place Oct. 6-7, will include a roster of speakers including Brenzel, Yale President Richard Levin, Amherst College President Anthony Marx, Harvard Dean of Undergraduate Admissions William Fitzsimmons and several authors, policymakers and educators.

Levin said he believes the diversity issue deserves significant attention.

“I wanted to support the students who initiated this,” Levin said. “I think it’s an important topic, one of concern to our campus community and of concern nationally.”

The invitation-only conference — titled “A Seat at the Table: Socioeconomic Diversity and Access to Selective Colleges and Universities” — will be open to Roosevelt Institution members from across the country and will also include student speakers. Other guests slated to attend include William Bowen of the Mellon Foundation; Myra Baas Smith, executive director of financial aid services at the College Board; Chaka Fatta, U.S. Congressman of Pennsylvania’s 2nd District; and author Jerome Karabel, who wrote “The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale and Princeton.”

“We have a tremendous lineup of people who come at the issue from all different approaches,” said Ted Fertik ’07, Roosevelt’s director of external relations. “The picks weren’t made in isolation. Each speaker has made specific and important contributions.”

The Roosevelt Institution set forth three major “challenges” to work on for this year, one of which is focusing on increasing socioeconomic diversity in higher education. Andrew Cox ’07, the national spokesman for the organization, said the purpose of the conference is to generate ideas, rather than concrete products per se.

“We hope to get some damned good ideas,” he said. “We’re not necessarily looking for one silver bullet.”

Fertik said he hopes Roosevelt members will return to their home universities after the conference with new ideas for promoting changes at their schools’ admissions offices — and for crafting policy proposals for state and federal lawmakers — that would make it easier for poorer students to gain a college education.

Some students said that while the goal of the conference is commendable, Yale should not co-host specific student groups’ activities if they are grounded in political interests.

“I do believe it is an important issue and sounds well-meaning,” Andrew McManus ’07 said. “But it depends if there’s a political bent or not, if there’s something politically involved here.”

Other students said the University should be focusing on a broader kind of diversity in higher education.

“Diversity in and of itself is good,” said Bert Ferrara ’07, a member of the Yale College Republicans. “The fact that a political organization is working toward it is a good thing. But at the end of the day, we should be striving for intellectual diversity.”

The plan for the conference was first conceived last spring, when the Roosevelt Institution and the Yale College Council teamed up and brought the idea to the Yale College Dean’s Office, said Zach Marks ’09, one of the two directors of the conference. Steven Syverud ’06, the former YCC president, had written his senior thesis on admissions policies and felt something needed to be done in the realm of increasing affordability of higher education, Marks said.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Yale’s decision to become the first college to adopt a need-blind admissions policy.

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