Discussing college decision making

February 8, 2011
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Reporter Rebecca Berfanger wrote this post.

Most decisions made by colleges and universities tend to be secretive, unless they rise to the level of public outcry and end up being reported by the media, or if a lawsuit is filed and makes the information public record.

This has made it somewhat difficult for Michael A. Olivas, a law professor and director of the Institute of Higher Education Law and Governance at the University of Houston to do research on the topic of “Governing Badly: Theory and Practice of Bad Ideas in College Decisionmaking.” This was the subject of the annual Jerome Hall Lecture at Indiana University Maurer School of Law on Monday, and the findings will be published in a future edition of Indiana Law Journal.

That doesn’t mean he hasn’t found anything, but it does mean that he hasn’t been able to find everything.

Olivas, president of the American Association of Law Schools, raised some interesting points about why he thinks that not only should good policies be explained, but also bad policies and bad decisions because that would give a better understanding of how to make things better.

He joked that bad decisions are difficult to find because one can’t simply do an Internet search for “bad decisions,” and there is no such thing as “baddecisions.com” to cite precedent for bad decisions in higher education.

Olivas focused his lecture on why he doesn’t agree with legacy admissions, also known as the alumni provision, at public universities; examples of professors who wrongly lost their jobs when programs or courses were cut due to budget issues; and why studying poor decisions can ultimately help colleges make better decisions.

As for the legacy admissions, he said that because a parent has gone to college, the applicant already has an advantage over other applicants who don’t have college-educated parents. Those applicants’ parents might also have an in with contacts at the school’s department of admissions already if they want to call for more information as to what the school is seeking in students.

He didn’t say this advantage to students of college-educated parents was a bad thing, but for public schools to weigh the legacy question heavily, which can sometimes make a big difference to a student who is applying, just doesn’t make sense.

An audience member asked if this was fair because of the idea that if an alumni’s child is accepted, that alumni may be more likely to donate funds to the school, especially when there is less funding from the state. Olivas said that still wasn’t enough of a reason for schools to favor applicants.

Another issue he discussed was when schools fire professors because their programs were cut. He said these situations might not be cut-and-dry, but that if a tenure-track professor was fired due to budget reasons because their program and classes were cut, but then someone else was hired to teach similar or the same classes but with different names, that’s a bad decision.

He also said transparency was key in general to decisions made by colleges and universities. If everything was openly discussed, he’d have less of an issue with these decisions. In turn, the courts would also likely have less of an issue if these decisions led to court filings because judges and lawyers would know that the decisions were examined and made with good judgment.

In the end, when a bad decision is made, the decision maker likely didn’t know it was a bad decision at the time, he added. This is another reason why these decisions should be studied to avoid similar bad decisions in the future.

Do you think colleges and universities should be more transparent in their decisions about admissions and personnel issues? Do you think students who have alumni privilege have an unfair advantage over other applicants?

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  1. A traditional parade of attorneys? Really Evansville? Y'all need to get out more. When is the traditional parade of notaries? Nurses? Sanitation workers? Pole dancers? I gotta wonder, do throngs of admiring citizens gather to laud these marching servants of the constitution? "Show us your billing records!!!" Hoping some video gets posted. Ours is not a narcissistic profession by any chance, is it? Nah .....

  2. My previous comment not an aside at court. I agree with smith. Good call. Just thought posting here a bit on the if it bleeds it leads side. Most attorneys need to think of last lines of story above.

  3. Hello everyone I'm Gina and I'm here for the exact same thing you are. I have the wonderful joy of waking up every morning to my heart being pulled out and sheer terror of what DCS is going to Throw at me and my family today.Let me start from the !bebeginning.My daughter lost all rights to her 3beautiful children due to Severe mental issues she no longer lives in our state and has cut all ties.DCS led her to belive that once she done signed over her right the babies would be with their family. We have faught screamed begged and anything else we could possibly due I hired a lawyer five grand down the drain.You know all I want is my babies home.I've done everything they have even asked me to do.Now their saying I can't see my grandchildren cause I'M on a prescription for paipain.I have a very rare blood disease it causes cellulitis a form of blood poisoning to stay dormant in my tissues and nervous system it also causes a ,blood clotting disorder.even with the two blood thinners I'm on I still Continue to develop them them also.DCS knows about my illness and still they refuse to let me see my grandchildren. I Love and miss them so much Please can anyone help Us my grandchildren and I they should be worrying about what toy there going to play with but instead there worrying about if there ever coming home again.THANK YOU DCS FOR ALL YOU'VE DONE. ( And if anyone at all has any ideals or knows who can help. Please contact (765)960~5096.only serious callers

  4. He must be a Rethuglican, for if from the other side of the aisle such acts would be merely personal and thus not something that attaches to his professional life. AND ... gotta love this ... oh, and on top of talking dirty on the phone, he also, as an aside, guess we should mention, might be important, not sure, but .... "In addition to these allegations, Keaton was accused of failing to file an appeal after he collected advance payment from a client seeking to challenge a ruling that the client repay benefits because of unreported income." rimshot

  5. I am not a fan of some of the 8.4 discipline we have seen for private conduct-- but this was so egregious and abusive and had so many points of bad conduct relates to the law and the lawyer's status as a lawyer that it is clearly a proper and just disbarment. A truly despicable account of bad acts showing unfit character to practice law. I applaud the outcome.

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