Monthly Archives: March 2012

CMC must uphold individual rights

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a fantastic organization that protects the individual rights of students, sent a letter to Claremont McKenna College’s President Wednesday questioning the choice to create a fenced in “protest area” during a visit by Condoleezza Rice in the fall.

I’ve been following FIRE’s work for sometime; it’s amazing what a difference their small group of dedicated staffers make. Their involvement could bring CMC’s actions to the national spotlight.

A college should be the place where ideas and expression of all sorts, radical or not, are welcomed as part of campus discourse. That so many highly regarded colleges and universities, including CMC, limit students’ freedom of expression and assembly is a shameful sign of the state of higher education. Sadly, administrators infringing upon students’ rights is the norm in 2012.

FIRE has asked for a response to the issues raised in their letter by April 18. One can only hope, for both CMC and the free speech rights of all students, that the administration takes the letter seriously and, instead of offering a standard PR response, enacts real change.

You can read all of the reporting (including some of mine) on the Rice protest — and FIRE’s letter — at the Claremont Port Side.

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Selectivity: Good for my degree, poor for your morale

Just a few days ago, Pitzer College’s Vice President for Admission and Financial Aid sent out an email to the Pitzer community with this year’s admission statistics. The acceptance rate?

15.7%

That is 15.7% accepted out of 4,227 applications

My first reaction was positive. This kind of selectivity can propel an institution forward. I’m no rankings monkey, but in a world where the job market is as competitive as it is, a little name recognition can go a long way. I don’t need validation that Pitzer is great, but it’s nice when at least people have heard of it. Considering that Pitzer’s acceptance rate last year was 24%, this is a significant drop.

However, at a certain point selectivity becomes a poor metric. There is a point where selectivity really doesn’t mean anything. For example, Stanford University’s acceptance rate in Fall 2010 was 7%. That is out of over 34,000 applicants.When your selectivity is this low, there is little that can justify who you are accepting or denying. Out of that vast applicant pool, many are qualified for admission. You could probably replace the 7% they accepted with a different 7% of the pool and still be fine. So what does the admission “process” become?

Nitpicking.

Students and parents need to understand that acceptance or denial from a selective college or university is not a character judgement. Many parents and applicants are still viewing this process with an old-fashioned lens: that if you got good grades and stayed involved, you are guaranteed admission. This is simply not the case in 2012.

When a school has so many people to choose from, they can practically construct the class piece by piece. We want x number of athletes, of artists, of scientists, of activists, etc. The number of applicants gives that freedom, but it also changes the nature of the process.

Many schools, including Pitzer, are open about using a ‘holistic’ process that involves every factor imaginable. As the number of applicants rises, it’s not just about being a great student or community member, it’s about fit. I predict that all schools, both traditionally small liberal arts colleges and large research universities, will eventually have to shift to a holistic process to sift through applicants.

Although selectivity can drive an institution to the proverbial top, it also demonstrates how flexible admission is. I might be happy to see a low acceptance rate for my degree, but I also realize that this figure means that many more people with hurt feelings or broken dreams.

With the continuing trend of students applying to more colleges than ever (applying to 10+ different schools rather than 3 or 4), I expect admission rates to continue to drop across the nation. It may make you feel “special” going to a selective college, but I don’t want selectivity to be the defining factor.

Of all the metrics that can describe a school, you learn very little from how many people it accepts. For Pitzer, the low acceptance rate is a great development, but it just shows that lots of qualified people want to go here.

To find out why, one has to look past the numbers. Behind the numbers, you find a unique educational community. That’s what matters most.

The Affordable Care Act Turns Two

On Wednesday morning, I had the opportunity to be on a conference call with Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Heath and Human Services, to discuss the two-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act (‘Obamacare’).

*start shameless plug* The call allowed three questions for Secretary Sebelius, and I was given the opportunity to ask the first one.*end plug*

Check out what she had to say in my piece at the Claremont Port Side.

Happy 2nd Birthday Obamacare!

In the world of Geraldo Rivera, hoodies are the problem

Justin Timberlake wearing a hoodie

The killing of Trayvon Martin is sending shockwaves through the United States and around the world, as it should. The entire situation of his death is shameful: from the actual shooting by George Zimmerman to the police inaction in Sanford.

Recently, Geraldo Rivera, a FOX News host most known for being ejected from Iraq after spilling the beans on a planned military operation there in 2003, made comments that put the blame on Martin for wearing a hoodie in the first place.

“Trayvon killed by a jerk w a gun but black & Latino parents have to drill into kids heads: a hoodie is like a sign: shoot or stop & frisk me,” tweeted Rivera. “Its not blaming the victim Its common sense-look like a gangsta&some armed schmuck will take you at your word.”

A few things about Rivera’s comments disturb me. First, of course, is that his comments inherently blame the victim. According to Rivera’s logic, Martin brought this upon himself by wearing a hoodie.  He says that he’s not blaming the victim, but the clothing,  arguing that if you “look like a gangsta” you are asking for it. But since when did this become justification for a killing?

Hoodies are a standard item of clothing. In 2012, wearing a hoodie should not be the reason you get killed. And it should never be an excuse for why someone else did. A person, Black, Latino, or otherwise, wearing a hoodie should not come off as threatening for that reason.

Instead of critiquing those who do find this image threatening, Rivera upholds the status quo. When he should be noting that this position is absurd, irrational and paranoid, Rivera chides minorities instead for looking like a threat. Instead of telling people to be more careful with their clothing choice, perhaps he should be reminding everyone that a hoodie is just a hoodie.

Telling parents that clothing choice is the issue at hand is wrong. Instead, we should be working to change the supposedly prominent mentality that wearing a hoodie means “shoot or stop & frisk me.”

You are not threatening if you wear a hoodie. Society cannot be allowed to follow Rivera’s logic. Wearing a hoodie (or even looking threatening, for that matter) does not give someone license to kill you.

Trayvon Martin should be alive today. And we shouldn’t allow his death to pass by saying that hoodies are the problem.

My night at the Ath with Pam Gann

Pamela Gann, President of Claremont McKenna College

I know, I know. This post isn’t about China. Heck, it’s not even about being abroad or the reentry process or academic life or whatever. That said:

The week before spring break, I had the privilege of attending a talk by Anne-Marie Slaughter, noted International Relations scholar and frequent guest on CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS, at the Athenaeum (the Ath) at Claremont McKenna College, one Pitzer’s sister schools in Claremont.

The talk itself was fantastic and I left the building feeling enlightened. However, on this evening, it was not just Slaughter’s talk that left me with greater understanding of politics.

Before I get into it, a quick rundown of how talks at the Athenaeum work: the Ath is a unique speaking environment because it mixes all of the auspices of a private dinner party with a regular campus speaking gig. Each night starts with a reception at 5:30, a formal dinner at 6:00, and the talk itself at 6:45. The talk, often presented by noted political and business leaders, is generally open to all members of the Claremont community (students, faculty, staff and the public, space permitting). The dinner and reception, however,  require reservations. Because the Ath is based at and funded by Claremont McKenna College, these reservations are often limited to CMC students alone.

On this particular night, I managed to secure a reservation for myself.

Being possibly the only non-CMC student at the reception meant a lot of mingling and awkwardly standing around checking my phone, but eventually I got into a good conversation with a CMC student who had just returned from study abroad. When the time for dinner came, the two of us took seats at one of the empty tables near the podium. The tables in the dining room are large and round, holding maybe 6 to 8 people each. For a while, the two of us remained the only people at the table.

Two older women then joined us at the table: it only took a moment for me to notice that one of them was Pam Gann.

Pamela Gann is the President of Claremont McKenna College and a former Dean of Duke Law School. She also brings with her a good amount of commentary and controversary, most recently in relation to her handling of McKenna’s SAT score scandal and her metrics-based push towards higher rankings, as reported by the Port Side here. Beyond scandal, Gann has also been criticized for being out of touch with CMC’s student-body, most notably in this piece published by the ASCMC Forum.

As she sat down, I thought it would be interesting to share a meal with the CMC president, maybe even learn a few things. However, this didn’t happen.

She never acknowledged us.

Now, this point may seem trite, but it struck me as odd that in a forum designed for discourse, with only four people at a table that could seat six to eight, the two students elicited no response.

It wasn’t just a lack of conversation: considering that Gann had a dining companion, I would have understood that. It was complete lack of recognition. There was no introducing ourselves, no eye contact, nothing. For the entire 45 minute dinner, hour-long presentation, and after, there was no interaction between Gann and the students at the table.

Now, if it had just been I, a Pitzer student, I might have understood more fully. I am not technically within Gann’s constituency. But the student next to me was a CMCer, and if I were a college president who had recently come under fire for being more focused on rankings than student satisfaction, I would probably take every opportunity to build rapport. But importantly, how could Gann even know that I wasn’t one of the students in her institution without asking in the first place.

Perhaps I am overblowing the situation, but that night struck me as particularly odd. I don’t think any less of Pamela Gann, as I still haven’t formally met her, but I do think that this situation illustrates why students sometimes say they feel that Gann is out of touch.

Being a college president, beyond running the institution, is about making connections: with donors, faculty, students (future alumni), staff, and people who can support the College’s future.  I understand that one cannot be “on” in their role as President 24/7. I respect this: being in a small college environment, I understand that administrators deserve and need their privacy.

However, when choosing to attend an event that is specifically designed for student discourse, it might serve well to at least say hello.

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