Amid conversations about the recent admissions bribery scandal and the fairness of Yale’s application process, many faculty members interviewed by the News defended the integrity of the University’s admissions process, citing the academic prowess of Yale’s students.
Earlier this month, the Department of Justice indicted at least 50 individuals, including former women’s soccer coach Rudy Meredith, for cheating the admissions process to gain spots at Yale and other top universities — the largest admissions scandal in recent history. The investigation — dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues” — sparked conversations regarding privilege in the admissions process. But all faculty members interviewed who commented on the integrity of the University’s admissions process said that students in their classes had clearly been selected for their merit, as opposed to solely on the basis of athletic recruitment or a family donation.
“I don’t think that part of the Yale admissions system is corrupt. I think it was a coach who was taking liberties with the athletic recruitment to personally enrich himself,” said political science professor Frances Rosenbluth. “It was personal corruption.”
In an interview with the News, psychology and linguistics professor Frank Keil noted that while there are “exceptionally qualified” applicants who were not accepted to Yale, the University’s admissions process selects students based on their merit. For his part, political science professor Steven Smith said that Yale’s admissions officers try their best to be fair, although there may be some cases where applicants are not admitted purely based on merit.
In interviews with the News, three of the approximately 10 faculty members interviewed by the News said that they did not know much about the specifics of the admissions process. According to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate Research and Scholarly Excellence Report published in November, more than 40 percent of tenured faculty said they “had no idea how admissions are done.” Fifty-seven percent said that faculty should be more involved in setting the priorities of admissions.
“I have worked with Yale Admissions but not for a very long time so that I feel very much outside the loop of how admissions are actually carried on,” Smith wrote in an email to the News. “Right now it is very much a black box for me.”
Along those lines, economics professor William Nordhaus ’63 told the News that the faculty, “as stewards of the institution … should undertake a thorough investigation to restore the integrity of the Yale admissions process.”
Still, in an op-ed in The Atlantic published earlier this month in response to the scandal, Head of Davenport College and law professor John Witt said it was irresponsible for elite educational institutions to position themselves as “the arbiters of applicants’ intrinsic merit.”
Witt added that universities should “not be embarrassed” to admit the children of generous alumni or wealthy donors.
“Like other organizations in society — philanthropic foundations, business firms, government agencies — elite educational institutions pursue a mission and run themselves accordingly,” Witt wrote in the op-ed. “Notwithstanding their rhetoric about meritocracy, admissions offices already make the pragmatic compromises necessary to cultivate — and pay for — good scholarship.”
In an interview with the News, computer science professor Holly Rushmeier said that though the scandal revealed athletics to be a surprisingly large factor in admissions decisions, she has taught many academically gifted athletes.
A News survey conducted in January, which received more than 1,400 responses, asked undergraduates about their views of admissions “plus factors” — aspects of students’ applications that allow the Yale Admissions Office to construct a diverse class. Forty-three percent of respondents were in favor of having “recruited athlete” status be a “plus factor” in admissions, 41 percent were against the practice and 14 percent had “no opinion.” Of the student athletes surveyed, 88 percent supported admissions using recruited athlete status as a “plus factor” in admissions.
While a range of factors — such as coming from underrepresented backgrounds, playing in a varsity athletic team and having legacy status — can give candidates priority status, the admissions committee will never vote to admit a student who is not qualified to succeed in both the academic and nonacademic life of Yale College, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Jeremiah Quinlan said.
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