Eli Whitney review nears completion

Those enrolled in the degree-granting Eli Whitney Students Program are eagerly awaiting the the results of an evaluation expected to be released next week.

In April, President Richard Levin announced that a Yale College committee would meet during the summer to evaluate the purpose and admissions qualifications for entry to Yale’s non-degree and degree-granting programs. Levin and Yale College Dean Peter Salovey chaired the committee, which is currently preparing its conclusions and recommendations for publication. The enrollment of former Taliban diplomat Rahmatullah Hashemi in the Non-Degree Students Program last year and his July rejection from the Whitney program brought the programs under scrutiny, prompting the administration to review their place as parts of the College.

Yale College Assistant Dean William Whobrey, who oversees both the Non-Degree and Whitney programs, said he could not speak to the committee’s findings but that the report will likely discuss possible steps to define the Whitney program’s mission as a part of Yale College. When administrators announced the committee’s inception last spring, they said admissions standards for the Whitney program would likely be discussed.

Levin and Dean of Admissions Jeff Brenzel declined to comment specifically about the committee’s report, though Levin confirmed that the findings will be issued soon and will recommend changes to the program.

The Whitney program, which grants a bachelor’s degree, is geared towards students whose family or job responsibilities prevented them from completing their college educations.

These nonresident students may enroll in Yale classes for credit, taking at least three per calendar year, and typically earn their degrees within seven years of their initial enrollment. Whitney students are eligible for all normal Yale College services, including career counseling at Undergraduate Career Services and fellowships through the Office of International Education and Fellowship Programs, but they may not receive financial aid from Yale.

According to the Admissions Office Web site, admissions “preference is given to applicants whose work/life experience and community involvements promise to add unusual dimensions to undergraduate life in the classroom.” Also, while Whitney candidates are subject to the same academic standards as regular Yale College candidates, “in assessing more mature candidates, relatively more weight should be given to achievement than potential.”

Students enrolled in the Whitney program, some of whom spoke to the committee about what they would like to see in the recommendations, said they hope Yale continues to view the program as an integral part of the College.

Eli Whitney Students Association President Carolyn Brokowski ’07 said she thinks Yale could do more to make Whitney students feel like part of the college.

“I would like to see a professed commitment to integrate the Eli Whitney Students Program into Yale College,” she said. “It’s one of the four doors into Yale College, that’s what they say, and it should be implemented.”

Along with freshman, Whitney and Non-Degree admissions, students may be admitted to Yale College by transferring from another institution.

Brokowski, who has been taking classes at Yale for five years while acting as a Capitol Hill lobbyist for pediatric cancer organizations, said she and other Whitney students try to raise awareness of their contributions to campus life by meeting with administrators and having program dinners.

Isa Mirza ’08 said he hopes the committee’s findings address Whitney students’ ineligibility for financial aid.

“That is the one aspect of our program that, by being denied it, makes us feel that we aren’t truly part of Yale,” he said.

Mirza, 28, spent time after high school working as a horticulturist and traveling in several different countries, even spending time studying Buddhism and meditation at a Tibetan monastery. He said the Whitney program is an important part of the College because its students bring their life perspectives to the undergraduate community and classes they attend, especially small discussion seminars.

Dolores Rebusmen ’09, 22, said her professors generally do not know she is a Whitney student and hold her to the same high academic standards as other students. The opportunity to renew her education after leaving St. Michael’s College in Vermont to have a child has been especially rewarding because of the persistence it has required, she said.

“It’s not just something my parents expect me to do, it’s something I’ve chosen to do with my adult life,” Rebusmen said.

Hashemi’s status as a Yale student sparked protest from some alumni and observers, who questioned his academic qualifications. Mirza said the controversy over the acceptance of Hashemi — who had passed a high school equivalency test, but had dropped out of school in fourth grade — unfairly colored people’s perceptions of this group of students at Yale.

The Non-Degree program in which Hashemi was enrolled allows students — who may or may not have previously attended college — to take up to 18 total courses without possibility of a bachelor’s degree. Both the Whitney and Non-Degree programs were formerly combined in the Yale College Programs of Study under the Special Student Programs.

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