I understand President Bacow and Dean Coffin’s rationale in composing their Viewpoint yesterday (“Need-blind admissions: Setting the record straight,” March 7) to “set the public record straight” on need-sensitive admissions at Tufts. The fact that this Viewpoint represents one of the only efforts at engagement of either of these administrators into the life of undergraduate students, and a faceless one at that, is shameful.
In my past four years at Tufts, upper-level administrators like President Bacow, Dean Coffin and Provost Bharucha have increasingly neglected their role as student-friendly educators in an institution that prides itself on its commitment to undergraduate education. Nowhere is this as clear as in the Admissions Office.
In the interest of full disclosure, I spent the better part of three years working in a variety of capacities in Admissions. I started as a work-study file clerk, moved to be a volunteer tour guide, coordinated student overnight visits, and finally worked as an April Open House executive board member. Last spring, in response to a column I wrote about the public relations-orientation of the college admissions industry, I was summarily dismissed from my meritorious service in volunteer positions, personally attacked and threatened by admissions officers, and called too “high-maintenance” by Dean Coffin.
If Dean Coffin and his colleagues in Admissions were truly committed to the education of young people and Tufts’ own pledge to public service and civic activism, their operation would bear little resemblance to that currently residing in Bendetson Hall. Most notably, they would be engaged with the undergraduate community well beyond freshman orientation. Admissions officers are, to use a term coined by education writer Jacques Steinberg, “the gatekeepers” to a college. How can one decide appropriately who belongs inside the gates when he or she has no idea what actually goes on inside there?
The majority of admissions officers at Tufts and similar institutions nationwide are recent college graduates in their mid-twenties, temporarily serving in that job for two or three years before figuring out what they really want to do. Others in
college admissions are career admissions officers, moving from school to school, with no loyalty or connection to an undergraduate institution, but only a perfected sales pitch that could sell Tufts or Yale or Trinity. Their secret trick? The mythical aura that embodies the entire college admissions process for the overworked, overpressured high school senior convinced that the review of his application by the gods on high is a complete and objective review of his first 17 years of life.
The Admissions Office knows very little about what actually goes on at Tufts. To be fair, there are a few recent alums working in the office. But on more than one occasion, I have heard admissions officers give factually incorrect information to students, ranging from curricular options to student life. This is in addition to countless instances where the truth has been twisted in an attempt at spinning the true situation (our horrific residential life system comes to mind). Staff turnover rates are so high that those who do come to Tufts cannot be reasonably expected to learn anything about the true character of the school beyond what they memorize out of a viewbook.
The students who get involved with Bendetson’s “Student Outreach” are self-selective. Beyond being happy at Tufts, they have yet to realize how over-hyped the entire college application process is, yet to be disillusioned by the Bacow administration’s uniquely paternalistic, yet neglectful, approach to undergraduate life. They are the students who like talking about themselves and their lives once a week to hundreds of strangers. Certainly, there are students who, like me, begin their careers as tour guides looking to help high schoolers make difficult decisions, attract the best possible students to Tufts, and make their school better. But as any candid experienced guide will tell you, “student outreach” is an unpaid public relations internship, and straying from message, no matter how valid that real message is, will get you canned, or at least scolded, if the powers that be ever catch wind.
In shaping the entering class, Dean Coffin and his staff set a tone for this school. Irresponsibly, though, they fail to pay attention to the tone set by students already here. For them, the Tufts experience is the biennial photo shoot scheduled for their promotional materials. Sadly, they do not recognize that our yield rate and endowment are undoubtedly connected to students’ levels of contentment and feeling of worth while here, and that they thus have a vested interest in understanding and improving student life. The admissions office takes advantage of the real, live Tufts students who volunteer their time and energy to them, using them until they have no more exuberance to give.
Every time an admissions officer sees me on campus (usually in the campus center, because lunch is really the only reason to leave their insulated domain), they glare and make a snide comment or some other unprofessional gesture. This has become particularly humorous to me of late, as graduate school admissions officers are bending over backwards to impress me. But I have an edge up on the process now, an edge that I did not have four years ago. I realize that admissions is a game, that admissions officers know very little about what your experience will actually be like, and that most could really care less who attends their school as long as their SATs, yield and diversity rates are high.
I do not think that Dean Coffin and President Bacow actually achieved anything positive in writing their Viewpoint, except maybe covering their own rears. This should be a familiar outcome to President Bacow, whose angry morning-after Naked Quad Run e-mail from 2002 will live on in infamy. Both these men talk about what Tufts is committed to on a daily basis, but I personally have had enough of the talk.
After four years of idling, the administration has finally adopted a reorganization of undergraduate life, which remarkably resembles the Vice President of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering system President Bacow eliminated when he first came here. Perhaps now we will see evidence of the commitment to students I have been hearing about since my admissions information session in February 1999. Meanwhile, I challenge Dean Coffin to engage his office in the reality that Tufts life is, beyond damage control like yesterday’s Viewpoint and his firing of me.
Adam Pulver is a senior majoring in community health and political science. He can be reached at [email protected]