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Shadiest Possible

Some readers took me to task for describing the College’s timing of the end of international need-blind admissions as “sleazy.” Well, don’t just ask me. Ask some students:

Honestly, WTF? Whether revoking need-blind was necessary or not, it seems like Bill Wagner picked the shadiest possible way to implement this.

Wait…they seriously already did it?

“begin to admit international students somewhat differently than we have in recent years, beginning with the class entering this fall.” -Bill Wagner, Feb. 16 2010

Holy shit. I missed that entirely. I feel absolutely violated.

Indeed. Here is what the College still says on its admissions webpage:

International students follow essentially the same procedures as all other students in applying for admission to Williams. No special admission form is required. A candidate’s cultural background and international experiences are highlighted positively in the selection process, as Williams continues its historic commitment to cultural diversity on campus. Williams is committed to a need-blind admission policy toward all applicants and will meet the full demonstrated financial need of all students, both domestic and international.

It is not a problem for Williams to delay updating its webpage if any changes will only apply to the class of 2015, i.e., those students applying next fall. The sleazy aspect is that Williams has changed this policy retroactively, applying it to members of the class of 2014, applicants who applied, at least partially, on a promise from Williams that their applications would be treated need-blind.

Breaking promises is sleazy and shady. If Williams is (correctly!) holding off on the change in loans to the class of 2015, why isn’t it doing the same on the change to international need-blind admissions?

The Record reports:

Peter Just, professor of anthropology, articulated the unfortunate influence the new policy has on community standards. “The reason I think it’s regrettable is that if we have two values that we have felt are most important over the last 20 years, they have been diversity and inclusiveness,” Just said. “It’s a terrible shame that we feel it’s necessary to make these specific reductions because they most directly affect both.”

Erdem Sahin ’11, an international student from Turkey, echoed the policy’s consequences for diversity. “I understand that measures need to be taken against this financial situation, but at the same time, I think Williams will lose, too, if international students on financial aid are denied access to this education,” Sahin said. “I think the international student body itself is more diverse now when more socioeconomic backgrounds are being represented.”

However, several international students like Sahin have countered that international students are less likely to apply to Williams if the Office of Admission drops need-blindness. “If I’m an international student who needs some form of financial aid, Williams will probably not be my first choice, whereas I know that my application will not be evaluated in terms of the need I have somewhere else,” Sahin said.
In a meeting last Friday, International Club members also talked through the diversity international students lend the campus. At the meeting, Bangkok native Thammika Songkaeo ’11 said that if the College considers wealthier students more seriously, “the international community becomes a prep school environment.”

In addition, Just emphasized how integral international students are to the measure of campus diversity. “It’s a genuine kind of diversity they’re bringing,” Just said, explaining that internationals are not bringing diversity only as a group, but also within themselves, with a range of ethnic, national, socioeconomic, linguistic and other backgrounds.

Similarly, Sahin talked about the unique way international students bring global themes to life. “We study cultures here; we study religions here; we study languages here,” he said. “International students are living representatives of the stuff that we study.”

Since finding out that the administration was seriously considering need-aware admission for international students, the International Club has worked to coordinate an organized response. Before Wagner sent Tuesday’s e-mail, the club was planning to meet with trustees to gain more official information and to send letters to senior staff and trustees conveying their objections to the policy, said James Mathenge ’12, co-chair of the International Club.

However, since Wagner confirmed that the College is adopting need-sensitivity, the International Club has not yet had time to regroup. Mathenge noted that the club will no longer request an official meeting and is reconsidering sending letters. “We feel that the matter is already pretty much decided,” Mathenge said. “We appreciate that the College officially communicated it today,” he added, since much of the frustration communicated at Friday’s International Club meeting stemmed from a lack of a clear institutional message about the policy’s likelihood and reasoning.

Read the whole article, which is extremely well done.

The best strategy for students interested in fighting this change is to focus, for now, on stopping its application to the class of 2104. This is, obviously, sleazy and tough for anyone to defend. (Do any readers defend it.) Once you stop if for that class, you have another 12 months to fight it. Details on how to do so available upon request.

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#1 Comment By Whitney Wilson ’90 On February 24, 2010 @ 1:59 pm

As I understand it, the financial aid policies for international students themselves have not changed. All that has changed is that the admissions department is now aware if an international student is a financial aid candidate (presumably making it at least slightly harder for them to be admitted).

If my understanding is correct, prospective international members of the class of 2014 have been “harmed” by this decision because they might not have applied to Williams because their chances of admission are lower than they thought they would be. This is unfortunate, of course, but I don’t think its the end of the world. Williams could refund the application fee from international students (at least those not admitted) this year, and take at least some of the sting away.

Again, I don’t think this after-the-fact change in policy is a great idea, but I wouldn’t characterize it as the “shadiest” or “sleaziest” act in college admissions history.

#2 Comment By David On February 24, 2010 @ 2:05 pm

Whitney:

1) We agree! I also would not “characterize it as the “shadiest” or “sleaziest” act in college admissions history.” But it is still the sleaziest thing Williams has done this year, or in the last decade.

2) The harm is also in the other schools that applicants did not apply to because they thought that Williams would be need-blind. In other words, if Williams had said, last November, that it was need aware, then applicants would have applied to X schools. Instead, they applied to Y schools, where Y is less than X. Is this a big effect? No. But some (dozens?) of applicants would have acted differently if Williams had given fair warning of the change. So, refunding their application fees is not enough.

3) Demanding those refunds is a good idea though!

#3 Comment By Whitney Wilson ’90 On February 24, 2010 @ 2:14 pm

I think we’ve iterated to agreement David. :) I essentially agree with your point (2), though I think its possible that applicants who applied to Williams under the old policy might have applied to a different school *instead* of Williams had they been aware the change was coming. Therefore, using your terminology, X may equal Y, but the applicant did not apply to a different school, and thus won’t have the opportunity to be admitted there.

I wonder how much money will be “saved” by considering ability to pay for the incoming class?

#4 Comment By dm ’10 On February 24, 2010 @ 2:39 pm

This doesn’t just hurt international applicants. Domestic kids who applied to Williams this year applied with the understanding that they would be admitted as part of a diverse class including international students from a range of backgrounds. If they applied ED, then they committed to attending Williams, and gave up the opportunity even to apply to other schools, based in part on this understanding. Would anyone actually have decided differently had they known of the new policy? I don’t know, but they should have had the option.

#5 Comment By rory On February 24, 2010 @ 3:38 pm

@dm ’10: I’m not sure. Lots of things change in a school between applying and enrolling. A new president, faculty turnover, building renovations, etc. You’d have to convince me that this change is so dramatic as to radically change the school. Otherwise, applying early includes taking the risk that the school might change its policies and you’ll have to deal with it.

I also wonder if this is geared towards the Carribbean students that have traditionally been attending williams (i have no evidence, just throwing it out there). There have generally been a good number of such students who need aid. That tradition might explain why the financial aid output for international students was so high before going need-blind and also why they’d make this move now. If so, I’d be extremely disappointed as that community of students added a lot to the school, in good part because there was a large enough community to have a critical mass, to support a carribbean student association, have events, and show the internal diversity of that region as well.

#6 Comment By dm ’10 On February 24, 2010 @ 3:57 pm

Obviously you can’t assume that everything about a school will be held constant forever. The fact that Morty Schapiro is President now does not mean that he will be six months from now, and so on. There’s always some uncertainty about the future.

But if the admissions office claims – on their website, as part of campus tours, and in their official materials – that admissions are being conducted need-blind, when in fact they are not, then I wouldn’t file that under uncertainty about the future. I’d call that “lying about the present”. If this happened to me as an applicant, I’d be angry about being lied to. And it might make me wonder whether a school that would do this is the sort of school I’d want to attend.

#7 Comment By rory On February 24, 2010 @ 4:01 pm

@dm ’10: if it happened to me as someone who was treated need-aware, then yes, i’d be furious. If it happened to others, then I don’t think I really have much of a leg to stand on in terms of how it affects me.