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. On a related note, I offered the ICLU my cases against the BLE repeatedly, and sought their amici aid repeatedly as well. Crickets. Usually not even a response. I am guessing they do not do allegations of anti-Christian bias? No matter how glaring? I have posted on other links the amicus brief that did get filed (search this ezine, e.g., Kansas attorney), read the Thomas More Society brief to note what the ACLU ran from like vampires from garlic. An Examiner pledged to advance diversity and inclusion came right out on the record and demanded that I choose Man's law or God's law. I wonder, had I been asked to swear off Allah ... what result then, ICLU? Had I been found of bad character and fitness for advocating sexual deviance, what result then ICLU? Had I been lifetime banned for posting left of center statements denigrating the US Constitution, what result ICLU? Hey, we all know don't we? Rather Biased.

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  3. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  4. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  5. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

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