Discussing college decision making

February 8, 2011
Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

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?

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
  1. Major social engineering imposed by judicial order well in advance of democratic change, has been the story of the whole post ww2 period. Contraception, desegregation, abortion, gay marriage: all rammed down the throats of Americans who didn't vote to change existing laws on any such thing, by the unelected lifetime tenure Supreme court heirarchs. Maybe people came to accept those things once imposed upon them, but, that's accommodation not acceptance; and surely not democracy. So let's quit lying to the kids telling them this is a democracy. Some sort of oligarchy, but no democracy that's for sure, and it never was. A bourgeois republic from day one.

  2. JD Massur, yes, brings to mind a similar stand at a Texas Mission in 1836. Or Vladivostok in 1918. As you seemingly gloat, to the victors go the spoils ... let the looting begin, right?

  3. I always wondered why high fence deer hunting was frowned upon? I guess you need to keep the population steady. If you don't, no one can enjoy hunting! Thanks for the post! Fence

  4. Whether you support "gay marriage" or not is not the issue. The issue is whether the SCOTUS can extract from an unmentionable somewhere the notion that the Constitution forbids government "interference" in the "right" to marry. Just imagine time-traveling to Philadelphia in 1787. Ask James Madison if the document he and his fellows just wrote allowed him- or forbade government to "interfere" with- his "right" to marry George Washington? He would have immediately- and justly- summoned the Sergeant-at-Arms to throw your sorry self out into the street. Far from being a day of liberation, this is a day of capitulation by the Rule of Law to the Rule of What's Happening Now.

  5. With today's ruling, AG Zoeller's arguments in the cases of Obamacare and Same-sex Marriage can be relegated to the ash heap of history. 0-fer

ADVERTISEMENT