Scandals in Higher Education

As those of us who are college and university teachers gear up for the fall semester, our profession is briefly back in the news with a high focus on the heartbreak of college admissions.

Let’s start with genuine heartbreak. Last Saturday, we learned that UC Irvine had rescinded acceptances for almost 500 students. The optics were pretty terrible. Ashley Gonzales, a first generation student who had turned down offers of admission elsewhere, told The Los Angeles Times that she “couldn’t stop crying.”  In order to attend her dream school, Gonzalez — whose parents are blue collar immigrants from Guatemala —  had “earned a 4.0-plus weighted GPA in honors and Advanced Placement classes, mentored younger students and volunteered at an animal shelter and wellness foundation. She said she sometimes studied until 5 a.m. and missed every family party during her junior year.”

In the same story, “Carson,” a military veteran, told the paper of his frustration as he tried to navigate his options:

“They’re pretty much leaving us in the dark,” said the 22-year-old, who had planned to major in neurobiology after completing four years with the U.S. Marine Corps. “They seem like a monolithic bureaucracy, and students are completely powerless. When I talk to them, it’s like talking to a wall.”

Although friends of mine at Irvine say rescinding admission over the summer is normal there and at many other schools — an entering class also shrinks during the summer as students come off wait lists elsewhere and withdraw, or fail to maintain a minimum GPA — this was an unusually large number of students, and some seem to have been almost randomly selected.

The good news? David Leonhardt, who originally reported the story for The New York Times tells us this morning that nearly all the students have been reinstated. But who will teach them? This triumph over injustice masks another uncomfortable truth, my informants noted. Irvine will have to expand teaching loads and section sizes, putting greatest pressure on employees who are paid the least for their teaching, graduate students and contingent faculty. In other words, this wouldn’t have been a problem at all if Irvine had the resources to teach all the students who they judge qualified to attend…..

For the rest of this essay, go to Public Seminar.

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