What I Learned by Writing for the CHE

I like to write, and I especially like to tweet and blog, because I can dash off some thoughts without too much concern about getting it just perfect.  Most of what I put here is essentially a first draft, sometimes with a quick review for grammar, spelling, parallel construction, dangling  antecedents and other obvious mistakes.  It’s not a living, just a hobby.

But a while ago, I was contacted by the Chronicle of Higher Education, and asked to do a piece on my idea for a National  Clearinghouse  for undergraduate admissions.  Admittedly flattered, and eager for people in higher education and the admissions profession to engage in thoughtful discussion about some of our challenges, I accepted.  I went over the alloted word count by at least 40%, but the people at the Chronicle squeezed it in, and even deemed it worthy of their print version.

I spent a lot of time on it, yet there is a lot I’d change; sentences seem too short or too long, I see periods that should be semicolons, and in some areas, it doesn’t  sound like I sound in my head.  It seems the longer I spend on a piece, the worse it gets.  Reason #1 I don’t write for a living.

But the biggest surprise to me was the reaction online.  On The Facebook page for College Admissions Professionals, the feedback was positive: 25 likes and some good comments.  This is to be expected, of course, as no one wants to make an ass of himself in front of colleagues.  I also got some good replies from the NACAC Exchange list, as well as personal messages from people I knew.  Same thing; positive for the most part.  High School counselors seemed enamored of the line about the lottery. I was also glad to get a few respectful and thoughtful dissents, which I think are actually more helpful than agreements.  And I got a lot of people interested in how we make this all happen.  Some of them had financial interest in doing so.

On the Chronicle site, however, the comments were odd, to say the least: They centered on bias against Asians, how admissions can’t be humanized with databases, how everyone should not go to college, how this is really about how we should not participate in USNWR rankings, and how I put our rankings on our website.  (I don’t put things on the DePaul website, by the way.) There was also some banter about how all private colleges are evil because some used to have Jewish quotas, and how the UK system could never work here, and how kids are too pampered today.

Only a few actually seemed to be comments about what I wrote.  As a still-abstract idea, I obviously think it has some merit. I also think there would be some problems, not the least of which would be that the entities with financial interest in the current system would almost certainly spend a lot of money to make sure they had financial interests in the new system.  I would have hoped people could have commented on that.  I would have hoped for some real, thoughtful, passionate disagreement. I guess this is reason #2 I don’t write for a living; I don’t seem to make my point very well. (All this presumes, of course, that I have talent enough to write for a living; and as I learned from old Perry Mason reruns, you can’t submit into evidence assumptions not proved.)

I get that this is how the Internet works.  But at the same time, this is the Chronicle of Higher Education; in order to post on the site, you need to have a subscription to the Chronicle of Higher Education, which, I hope, means you have some real interest in the topic.  Yet the article simply became an opportunity for people to post their prepackaged issues in public.

I have often bemoaned the tendency of admissions people to avoid abstract conversations because they might cause some disagreement.  I’ve even been told publicly by the NACAC President that I was wrong to encourage some difficult discussions in the name of collegiality.

But I still believe it’s important for people in higher education today to challenge assumptions, to adapt to change, and to make things better for the students we serve.  They’re presumably why we’re here.  That’s the right reason.  The wrong reason is that if we don’t engage in these discussions, people from the outside–people with legitimate interests but no experience–will pick up the reigns and do it to us.



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