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. Indianapolis employers harassment among minorities AFRICAN Americans needs to be discussed the metro Indianapolis area is horrible when it comes to harassing African American employees especially in the local healthcare facilities. Racially profiling in the workplace is an major issue. Please make it better because I'm many civil rights leaders would come here and justify that Indiana is a state the WORKS only applies to Caucasian Americans especially in Hamilton county. Indiana targets African Americans in the workplace so when governor pence is trying to convince people to vote for him this would be awesome publicity for the Presidency Elections.

  2. Wishing Mary Willis only God's best, and superhuman strength, as she attempts to right a ship that too often strays far off course. May she never suffer this personal affect, as some do who attempt to change a broken system: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QojajMsd2nE

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  4. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  5. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

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