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Xavier in Trouble

Xavier University is in serious trouble.

Warped wooden floors and ruined desks have been stripped out of Xavier University’s main campus building. Its 4,000 students are scattered across the nation. Half the faculty and staff have been laid off.

The nation’s only historically black and Roman Catholic college, which expected to be celebrating its 180th anniversary this year, was battered to the brink of financial collapse by Hurricane Katrina.

Things are so tough that Xavier has had to fire or place on unpaid leave more than half its employees.

Chemistry professor Heike Geissler learned of her termination last month at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., where she has been watching over eight Xavier students who enrolled there after Katrina.

“I don’t want to see Xavier going bankrupt or disappearing from the map, so I’m not mad or sad,” said Geissler, who taught there for seven years and was tenured in 2005. “I have to get on with my life. I’m very seriously considering leaving Louisiana.”

As are many others. Condolences to Geissler on her misfortune. At financially secure institutions like Williams, tenure is forever — just ask Aida Laleian! At places like Xavier, it’s not.

[President] Francis said Xavier plans to hold classes on its own campus [in January], though the water-damaged ground floors of many buildings may have to be sealed off. He expects roughly half the student body to come back for the winter semester.

Rene Turner, a 21-year-old Xavier senior in pre-medicine, hopes to be among them. She transferred for the fall to Williams College.

“I feel like that’s my home now,” Turner, of Kansas City, Mo., said of Xavier. “I have a deep connection there and have spent so much time there. I definitely want to graduate from Xavier.”

Good for her.

But should the rest of us mourn the loss of Xavier? I am not sure. Xavier has an amazing history, but its current practices are not always, shall we say, beyond criticism.

For example, only about 60% (see page 4) of the students that enroll at Xavier as freshmen graduate with a degree in less than 6 years. See page 9 for more details. Consider the enrollment by class of the main Xavier program in fall 2004.

Freshmen:   1,334
Sophomores:   793
Juniors:      534
Seniors:      557

Students only familiar with the tendency of Williams and other elite schools to graduate virtually everyone who enrolls may have trouble making sense of these numbers. Where do all the freshmen go?

They drop out. Places like Xavier — and there are many other financially-strapped institutions like it — are quite willing to let in the vast majority of students who apply even if they know that those students are highly likely to drop out and have nothing to show for their effort except a nice chunk of student loan debt.

In other words, Xavier lets in hundreds of students each year (and takes their money) even though it knows that there is a 90% chance that these students — the ones from the bottom 1/4 of its applicant pool — will never get a college degree.

Now, one might charitably claim that Xavier is just giving all these students a chance, that it is providing an opportunity to those who might not get an opportunity elsewhere. Perhaps. I take a much more cynical view. Xavier needs money. Accepting unqualified applicants and loading them up with student debt for a year or two generates revenue. Failing them after it becomes clear that they are not “college material” ensures the continued value of a Xavier degree.

Or am I missing something?

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Xavier News

Although Williams only gets a brief mention, this CNN article discusses students displaced by Katrina.

Accustomed to low and flat New Orleans, Tameka Noel finds herself huffing and puffing as she walks the hilly campus of Amherst College near the Berkshire Mountains. And though it’s just October, it already feels like winter to her.

She misses friends, and Cajun food, and Bourbon Street, which puts small-town Amherst’s nightlife to shame.

She and the six other students from Xavier University who wound up here this semester won’t lie and tell you Hurricane Katrina was the best thing that ever happened to them, just because they get to spend time at an elite liberal arts college. They will, however, say they are grateful for the hospitality, and that — when all is said and done — their time at Amherst might have broadened their education.

“Some days are difficult and others aren’t,” said Noel, a senior from New Boston, Texas, who is part of Xavier’s well-regarded premed program. “But I think being outside your comfort zone is something everybody should experience.”

Amherst took its visitors shopping for the winter clothes they suddenly needed, and is even paying for them to fly home for Thanksgiving. In the classroom, it organized tutorials to help them catch up after missing the first two weeks of class. College officials say the students are doing fine academically.

For the Xavier students, it’s a way to get the courses they need to stay on track to medical school. But it’s also a chance to try some new things. At Xavier, they said, most classes are in a lecture-and-drill format. Their Amherst seminars have been a nice change of pace in both structure and content.

“We discussed homosexuality, which is definitely a big taboo at Xavier, being Catholic and all that,” said Noel, who added an elective on “cross-cultural constructions of gender” to her science coursework. The different classroom experience “is something I’ve enjoyed,” she said.

Worth reading, and thanks to David Rodriquez ’06 for the link.

EphBlog, of course, specializes in taking people outside their comfort zone, at least on this topic.

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Xavier Professor Arrives

EphBlog joins with Morty Schapiro in welcoming the latest visitor from Xavier University.

To the Williams Community,

I’m happy to announce that we’ve recently been joined for the semester by Heike Geisler, Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Xavier University of Louisiana. She’ll be working on her scholarship in physical chemistry along with helping to support the eight Xavier students in residence and interacting with regular Williams faculty, students, and staff. We’ve been able to provide her with transportation, an office, and an apartment. She’ll also receive support while here from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Thank you to all on campus who have helped make her residency possible, especially Bill Lenhart, professor of computer science, who continues to devote a significant part of his leave time to coordinate this effort. Please join in welcoming Professor Geisler to our community.

Sincerely,

M. Schapiro

Alas, I’ll have to rely on Geoff Hutchinson ’99 to explain the sort of chemistry that Professor Geisler works on. How much will Professor Geisler be able to accomplish in the remaining 8 weeks of the semester? I don’t know, but she obviously wouldn’t have come if she didn’t want to.

Although the web does not make this clear, I believe that Geisler is German (her Ph.D. is from Ruhr University of Bochum). I would be curious to know if she were involved in the pre-med program at Xavier last year and if any of the Xavier pre-meds at Williams knew her already. The College had originally hoped to bring up several Xavier faculty, especially those associated with the pre-med program. That plan fell through because, I think, the contacted faculty had little interest in coming. I do not know if Geisler was contacted about coming back in September — Did the College extend a blanket invitation to every faculty member at Xavier? — or if the College has been proceeding down some list of faculty, ordered somehow, and only recently got to Geisler.

Professors from Tulane could not be reached for comment.

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Does David Kane ’88 Have a Soul?

Lest this title confuse you, M Esa Seegulam started a thread on the WSO boards entitled “6 Reasons Why I Think David Kane Has no Soul”. I didn’t intend to post my reply on Ephblog, but given the fact that I took excessive amounts of time to write it (instead of working on my Bayesian Statistics problem set), I’d like to see something come of it.

Click to read my actual response on WSO.

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All Ephs Now

Jim Kolesar was kind enough to provide this background on Williams’s generous offer of help to Xavier. [Minor editing, comments and links added by me.]

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Helping Hand?

One way that the College is helping out in the aftermath of Katrina is to accept students from effected schools. As long as those students are of similar academic talent to current Ephs, this is a win-win all around. The obvious match would be with students from Tulane, at least one of whom is attending Williams for the fall.

But the College is going further. Several students from Xavier University are already on campus and more may be on the way.

We are happy to report that special new members of our community began arriving today — five pre-medical students from Xavier University of Louisiana. Another arrives Thursday; still another has expressed interest. Through them, and through the University, Williams is reaching out to other Xavier pre-meds who may be able to join us for the fall. A similar group arrives soon at Amherst, which also is seeking more such students.

We’re still in the process of determining these students’ academic needs, but it looks at this point like those in Williamstown will largely take regular Williams courses. They’ll live in previously empty dorm rooms and be available to take full part in campus life.

A good idea?

The bottom 25th percentile of SAT scores at Williams is around 665. The 75th percentile at Xavier is 555. But given that only 50% of students at Xavier report their test scores, this 555 number is probably closer to the 90th percentile if not higher. In other words, even if the students that Williams accepted from Xavier are in the top 10% of the class there — there’s no word on how Williams selected which students would be invited to attend — we would still have a problem. The SATs of students at Williams do not go down very far below the 25th percentile.

In other words, there is almost certainly a dramatic mismatch between Williams students and the Xavier students who have joined them for the fall. Almost all the Xavier students probably fall in the bottom 5%, if not lower, of the Williams population.

I think that this has trouble written all over it. There is a reason that Williams rarely accepts students with below 1200 SATs. Such students have a lot of trouble at a place like Williams.

Are Morty and the rest of the folks that run Williams really helping out those Xavier students by putting them in a Chemistry class with a bunch of Ephs who are almost all much smarter than they are? Or are they mostly making themselves feel better by doing something, anything, in the face of such a calamity? Time will tell.

Addedum: Note that I could be wrong about these numbers. Perhaps Williams only offered positions to the half dozen Xavier students with 1400 combined SATs. I doubt it. I also suspect that Williams administrators have a sense about the mismatch; see the phrase “academic needs” in the quotation above. On the bright side, putting the Xavier students in a Williams science class will help out the curve for everyone else . . .

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