Wednesday, August 1, 2018

University of Chicago Heads For The Abyss

By Professor Doom

     When it comes to great schools in Higher Ed, everyone can name a few schools in the Northeast (Hi Princeton! Hi MIT! Begrudingly hello Harvard!), but past that? Things get hazy. One of the few that people can name not in that region is University of Chicago, established in 1890. Part of what made this private non-profit school great was its low acceptance rate, hovering around 8% for years.

      Those days are coming to an end, thanks to two recent incidents.

      Let’s take a look at the first:

     I’m sorry but I’m not buying this. Any student that legitimately wanted to learn about “diversity and inclusion” could just, you know, pick up a book and read. Making it a “requirement,” that is, making it mandatory indoctrination, just doesn’t make any sense. In my decades of higher ed I’ve never seen a mass of students begging to be forced to take another course (much less spend $3,000 or more for the privilege).

A group calling itself UChicago United has presented 51(!) demands to the school, and one of them is this requirement. They claim the school "has consistently failed to meet the needs of its marginalized students," and, as such, must take "action to build accessible campus resources and measures of accountability to support the creation of an environment that minority students are able to lay claim to as their own."

      Ok, so let’s go with the flow here. Some student group presents a list of demands to admin, demands that will cost money. Now, when faculty make demands of admin, especially demands which would cost money, the answer is generally “no,” and usually gets reinforced with a few firings.

      It’s the same here with these students, admin could just respond with “no,” have their drivers take them back to their lakefront property, and call it a day. So far, admin hasn’t acceded but I know it’s just a matter of time.

      What bothers me here isn’t the student demand, but the lack of curiosity about how this massive list of demands came to be, how this very student organization came to be. These strike me as very legitimate questions but…nothing. I can’t help but suspect admin is behind it on some level.

      Bottom line, the destructive ideology which has taken down many schools clearly has its sights on University of Chicago. It’s just a matter of time.

      That time is rapidly being shortened, as admin has made a major change to admissions:

Chicago Drops SAT/ACT Requirement. 

     One of the many things hurting higher ed right now is the emphasis on growth over scholarship, and, bottom line, restricting admissions—great for scholarship!—is terrible for growth.

      So, get rid of entrance exams. Yes, other schools are doing this, and once one school does it, others follow, for “best practices” reasons, even if there hasn’t been anywhere near enough time to determine if the removing tests is a good idea. The justification admin gives is “it helps diversity” of course:

“Today, many underresourced and underrepresented students, families and school advisers perceive top-ranked colleges as inaccessible if students do not have the means to help them stand out in the application process,” said James G. Nondorf, vice president and dean of admissions at Chicago.

      “Underrepresented” is the dog whistle for wanting more diversity, of course. Now, I grant the UC is following up with more scholarships (good for them!), but this is a top tier research school. How will they now determine a top student?

In addition, the university announced a new program in which it will invite students to submit a two-minute video introduction of themselves. And the university will allow self-submission of transcripts to minimize the need for students to pay fees.

    The above sounds  all flowery and sweet, but it’s covering up considerable rot. Our public education system is producing full on illiterates, and those standardized tests weed them out quite nicely, at least for a school which cares about such things. Often schools require students to write some sort of “why I want to go to college” essay, for much the same reason.

     But instead of all that, now they’re going to use 2 minute videos. A student no longer needs to show he can read or write, will have no official test scores, and there won’t even be official transcripts. Does anyone else see some room for skullduggery here?

       What’s funny about this is schools claim that standardized tests are unfair—children with wealthier parents can pay for extra test-taking training and to some extent “buy” a higher test score. This is true, but going to videos is quite misguided—now the children of wealthier parents will just pay to have those videos professionally shot, and this is far, far, more expensive than simply getting someone to force the kid to study.

       Another issue here is time. When you use standardized tests, you can make a very fast judgement, and the student can have a pretty good idea if it’s worth his while to even apply. I love the unintended consequences here of going to video: not only will the rich have a bigger advantage, more poor kids will waste their time on videos because anyone can do that, unlike scoring well on a test.

     Now consider, assuming good faith by the university, the time it takes to review these videos.

     Well, the university got almost 28,000 applications last year, at 5 minutes apiece to load, watch, and review a video. We’re looking at over 2300 hours of looking at videos to figure out which students should be admitted. So, a process that used to take a day to narrow down to the top few thousand will now take weeks of work by a team of administrators (you don’t need scholars to watch videos).

      The school admits about 2,500 students a year, so after a few weeks of weeding out the bad videos, they’ll spend another week full time reviewing the top 5,000, I suppose. And there’ll be no paper trail, no quantitative way to tell if the admissions process is now completely controlled by identity politics.

      Yeah, I see a major problem here. Isn’t it odd that our vast cadre of highly paid administrators can’t see how foul this process will be? Or perhaps they want it that way?

      Now, absolutely, I have issues with standardized tests but…at least they’re something, a known albeit weak quantity which admissions can make some minimal baseline objective decisions over. How can 2 minute videos hope to be as effective as tests with decades of experience using millions of students behind them? How can nobody else be asking this question?

       It’s possible that this is all just a ploy to get more applications, which can then be rejected, lowering UC’s acceptance rate—having a low acceptance rate is prestigious, after all. Even if this is the true plan, the end result is admissions will now be set up in such a way that identity politics, and not academic ability, can become the sole determining factor for getting accepted into college…it may not be the intention, but the damage that this result will do to UC is immeasurable.

       Considering we have “students” already demanding identity politics become a mandatory part of the UC, the likelihood of admissions becoming corrupted by these changes is pretty high.

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