Admissions search effort to include student members

The Advisory Group on Admissions and Financial Aid (AGAFA) announced last week that two students will be appointed to the search committee for the College’s next director of admissions. The decision came after several weeks of discussion between AGAFA and the Gargoyle Society, which had named the placement of students on the committee as one of its priorities for this year.

AGAFA, a committee that submits recommendations for admissions and financial aid standards to the Board of Trustees, was initially opposed to student membership on the search committee.

But the committee changed its mind after the drive led by Gargoyle, a student-run honor society that adopts projects related to the advancement of the College. The society undertook the issue at the end of the last academic year as part of a general push for greater student involvement in administrative decision-making.

Adding students to the committee

Currently, Richard L. Nesbitt serves as acting director of admissions. Nesbitt was appointed when Tom Parker, former director of admissions, left the College in the spring of 1999 to assume the post of dean of admission and financial aid at Amherst College.

AGAFA’s initial plans for the search committee contained no provisions for student participation. When first approached by Gargoyle members, the group said that it was against the inclusion of students as full members of the search committee.

AGAFA cited several specific concerns with the inclusion of students. Some committee members suggested that since students are not responsible for the admissions director after his or her hiring, they would not comprehend the gravity of the selection process. The group also argued that students were not qualified to read résumés and would overestimate their own power on the search committee.

After an Oct. 13 meeting in which AGAFA stated its concerns to Gargoyle, society members Cathryn Christensen ’01, Dan Elsea ’02 and Nishant Nayyar ’02 responded with a letter offering rebuttals to the group’s objections.

In the letter, the students argued that the committee must “have different segments of the Williams Community involved in the process.” Furthermore, Christensen, Elsea and Nayyar wrote, sifting through résumés is only a fraction of the overall function of the search committee, and if students feel underqualified to evaluate the documents, they should simply remove themselves from that aspect of the process.

Soon after receiving the letter, AGAFA conceded to include student representatives as full members of the search committee. In the meantime, College Council (CC) became involved in the discussion, when Nayyar and Shenil Saya ’02, both at-large representatives, drafted a resolution calling for student involvement on the search committee. Saya had met with AGAFA on Oct. 13 as an observer from CC before drafting the proposal. At the CC meeting on Oct. 18, Saya and Nayyar brought up the proposal during open time with the intention of calling for a vote at the next week’s meeting. However, since AGAFA and the College’s senior staff made the decision to include students before CC’s next meeting, the resolution became unnecessary.

“From what I understand, the students will have full voting rights and therefore will be equal members on the committee, which is great because we now have an active student voice in something which is very important for this campus,” Saya said

According to Todd Rogers ’01 and Ami Parekh ’01, co-presidents of CC, the council’s Appointments Committee will solicit self-nominations from interested students in the near future. The Appointments Committee will choose four possible candidates and submit their self-nominations to AGAFA, which will make the final selection of two members.

Self nominations are due to the Appointments Committee by Friday at 5 p.m. They can be a maximum of 300 words and should be sent to selfnoms@ wso.williams.edu.

Student reaction and future plans

While some students involved felt that the selection method was flawed, reactions have been generally positive.

“I think that AGAFA has been very reasonable in agreeing to student representation on the [admissions director search] committee and this is a really good step in the right direction, in getting students more involved in the running of this campus, and having their voice heard in areas which have traditionally been restricted to the administration only,” Saya said.

“We’re very pleased that there will be students on this important search committee,” said Rogers.

Representatives of the Gargoyle Society were equally excited about the decision.“The administration’s reaction, though initially cold, is indicative of one of the things I love most about Williams – if you want to change something on this campus, something big, you can,” Nayyar said.

Concerning the possibility of having students on AGAFA itself, Catherine Hill, provost of the College and chair of AGAFA, expressed reservations. “The main reason that students are not on AGAFA is that the committee routinely examines very detailed data on students currently on campus to which it would be inappropriate for other students to have access.”

Hill said that adding student members would make the committee less efficient, because certain issues would not be discussed in the students’ presence.

She suggested other committees with student members might be able to better address admissions issues. “One possibility might be to add admissions and financial aid issues to the responsibilities of CUL [the Committee on Undergraduate Life], or perhaps the CEP [the Committee on Education Policy],” she said.

“This possibility would need to be discussed with the Steering Committee and these committees.”