Friday, April 14, 2006

Yale, Bush and the politics of power

In the imbroglio over the Single Choice Early Action, the tactics and methods followed a very similar methodology to that of the Bush White House.

For those of you who don't know the details, it started with the President of Yale voicing reservations about Yale's early decision, especially in terms of fairness for those applying for financial aid. He wanted to go back to an early action plan but was concerned about dealing with the high volume of applications such action might bring. Thus was born the idea of Single Choice Early Action (SCEA) where students applying to Yale SCEA could only do so if they did not apply anywhere else early. There were a number of problems with this policy, though. One was a clear definition of what early was: early decision, early action, rolling admissions, early notification... The second was that there was a feeling that the plan had an air of arrogance and more than a hint of restraint of trade: who was Yale to say what students could do when applying to other colleges? But the biggest problem to many was that this new policy was not in accordance with NACAC Statement of Principals of Good Practice (SPGP) which stated that students who applied early action could apply to other colleges "without restriction". There was a mixture of reaction as to whether the new plan was a positive one. Some agreed that Yale was taking the right step by moving away from Early Decision, a plan embraced mostly by those who did not need to be able to compare offers of financial aid, i.e. the well-to-do. And some saw that Yale needed to restrict EA applications or they could not logistically make this move. Others saw it as an arrogant usurping of power, with the powerful restricting applications to colleges which were less powerful. Perhaps the loudest voices against the plan were those in NACAC who, despite the merits of the new admissions plan, saw the new plan as an affront to the accepted rules which had governed college admissions for the previous seventy years. They were genuinely concerned that if Yale and others went down this path of changing their policy to one that was in direct opposition to the SPGP, that other more vital parts of the SPGP would begin to be ignored by member organizations.

There was an acknowledgement from many in NACAC that there were problems with the SPGP. There were feelings of some that SCEA was not an issue to "go to the mat" on. There was an acknowledgement that there was a need to look at the SPGP with fresh eyes. The Admissions Standards Steering Committee was born (of which I was a member) to develop guiding principles for the SPGP and to decide whether the tenets of the SPGP were consistent with these principles and of appropriate merit and meaning to be added. The SPGP had become unwieldy and disorganzed and the Steering Commitee was convened to simplify , prioritize and organize the SPGP.

Yet the issue of SCEA still loomed. If Yale, and then Stanford, were to go ahead with SCEA, it would be a direct affront to the principles that they agreed to abide by. Yet while the Steering Committee was still going through its work and there was room to work out a compromise, Yale announced, in 2004, that they would be adopting SCEA for the next year's class. Stanford's representatives stated that they had planned to wait a year to work out a compromise but that Yale had forced their hand. Eight hours later, Stanford also adopted SCEA followed soon after by Harvard. The Assembly of NACAC at the national conference was to decide whether to modify the SPGP to accept SCEA as an admissions plan. If this was defeated, there would likely be a vote to sanction Harvard, Yale and Stanford with Harvard and Yale making it clear that they would withdraw from the organization if that were to happen.

During this same time period, we were observing one of Yale's most famous (imfamous?) graduates, George W. Bush, using various tactics to justify breaking with established rules, laws and traditions. Whether is was justifying pre-emptive war, lying to the American people about weapons of mass destruction, not following the Geneva Convention, justifying torture or approving eavedropping on American citizens without the going through agreed upon channels, there were behaviors and rationales that bore a striking similarity to the actions of his alma mater in the SCEA debate:

Both:

1) acted unilaterally.
2) felt no obligation to respond to critics.
3) acted without transparency
4) ignored established and agreed upon laws and rules to achieve their own needs
5) misused their positions of power
6) dismissed the established rules and laws as quaint
7) used disengagemnt as a threat.
8) had a total lack of appreciation of how an atmosphere of breaking a contract affects the behavior of others.

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