Forum critiques JA selection process, works toward changes

Members from the Junior Advisor (JA) Selection Committee (SC) held a forum on Tuesday to give students an opportunity to learn about and to voice concerns and suggestions regarding the JA selection process. The forum did not draw a large crowd; only three people not involved in the JA system were in attendance. Suggestions dealt with how to increase JA diversity, how the SC chooses JAs and how the SC itself is picked. Committee leaders were pleased with the ideas brought up and plan to speak to the deans about implementing changes in the future.

The forum began with a discussion of the selection process itself. The process is broken up into the preliminaries, interviews and deliberations. In the preliminary stage, the SC meets to discuss the JA job description, the selection procedures and other matters pertaining to selection policy. In this stage, the SC members all tell the group what they believe one aspect of a good JA is to give the Committee an idea of what characteristics they as a group are looking for in a JA.

During the interview phase, six JA candidates meet with four SC members and the candidates participate in group exercises. Following the group exercises, two SC members meet with three of the candidates and ask them a series of questions on how they would deal with various situations. Personal interviews follow, with two SC members per candidate and thirty minutes of questions.

After the interviews, the Committee enters the deliberation stage. The deliberation process involves: the “pre-emptive strike” first-round deliberations, second-round deliberations and final-round deliberations. The pre-emptive strike is given to a candidate if two or more SC members raise serious objections to a person’s candidacy. If a candidate is given a pre-emptive strike, the application is put aside, but can be brought back into the process at any point.

During first-round deliberations, each candidate’s application is read aloud, the interview team reports the candidate’s interview and other SC members are given the opportunity to comment on the candidate or ask questions. The Committee then votes to move the person to the second round; a simple majority is required for a candidate to be advanced. In the second-round deliberations, the focus is on the self-recommendation and the JA recommendation. The Committee hears selected quotations from the recommendations and then the Committee votes to select its top 50 candidates.

A final ballot is constructed based upon this previous vote and consists of the top 75 candidates. The final round involves balloted voting based on a tier system. The SC members vote for their top 50 candidates, dividing the candidates into four tiers (top 10, second 15, third 15, and final 10). Each tier is assigned a point value (first=20, second=15, third=10, fourth=5), and the top 25 male and top 25 female candidates are selected to be JAs. The next ten highest candidates of each gender are placed on the waitlist. The Dean’s Office approves the final JA list.

After discussing selection policy, the forum was opened to suggestions or questions about the process. Joshua Frankel ’02 asked if others thought it would be a good idea to start having semester-long JAs, to give students who want to be JAs a chance to go abroad.

“We hope to work with the Dean’s Office to try to make study abroad more compatible with being a JA,” answered Craig Tamamoto ’02, who ran this year’s SC and was a member of the JA Advisory Board. “One way to do that is to allow sophomores to study abroad (internationally) during the spring of their sophomore year.”

Tamamoto expressed apprehension about having JAs switch halfway through the year.

Frankel also addressed a common student concern about the homogeneity of the JA group. He suggested a potential solution to this problem might be selecting three-fourths of the JAs using a ballot, and fill up the remaining slots with “types” that might be missing. Several members of the Committee responded. One reply to Frankel’s suggestion was that such a system would lengthen the already tremendously time-consuming process. Adrienne Ellman ’03, current JA co-president, raised the point that the Selection Committee votes with the need for ethnic and social diversity in mind, and the real problem is that not enough minorities apply.

Questions about how the Selection Committee is formed were then discussed. Members of the SC explained that positions are advertised via a campus-wide e-mail sent at the end of the fall semester. The JA Advisory Board then reads through the applications and selects the SC. During selection, a factor that the Advisory Board tries to keep in mind is where the applicants have lived, in hopes that a geographically dispersed Selection Committee will mean more personal interaction with the JA applicants.

This point led to concerns about potential biases against JA applicants who do not personally know anyone on the Selection Committee. A Committee member admitted that there is a bias against them, and suggested that one way to combat this problem could be to mandate that the SC rely solely on the application recommendations for character reference. Craig Tamamoto ’02 assured the forum that there is a hearsay rule, which prevents SC members from saying things about applicants that do not come from first-hand knowledge.

Mark Rosenthal ’03, CC co-president and a JA, questioned the legitimacy of the self-selecting nature of the process. SC members felt that the success of the JA classes it selected spoke to the legitimacy of the process. Rosenthal suggested that perhaps the Selection Committee should be chosen through campus-wide elections. Tamamoto felt that this could end up being a popularity contest, which might actually cut down on diversity.

Another possibility suggested was having the Appointments Committee select a portion of the Selection Committee and the JA Advisory Board select the rest. Tamamoto was more open to this suggestion.

“We are investigating ways to open that system to a wider cross-section of the campus, including asking an outside body (perhaps College Council) to appoint ‘at-large’ members of the JA Selection Committee,” said Tamamoto.

Rosenthal then asked about why so many people who are members of the Williams Ultimate Frisbee Organization (WUFO) were selected to be Junior Advisors. SC members pointed out that only two members of WUFO were on the Committee this year, and Chris Durlacher ’03 said that more people from WUFO applied and were rejected than last year.

A few other criticisms were voiced before the meeting closed. Kate Roberts ’04 brought up an issue she had heard circulating through campus. She said students are concerned about breaches of confidentiality. Committee members commented that when breaches of confidentiality have been discovered, the guilty committee member is expelled from the Committee.

Roberts also commented that students are very confused about the process in general. Laurel Bifano ’02, who ran the Committee along with Tamamoto, said that the Selection Committee has tried to explain the process by holding this forum and she encourages anyone with questions to contact her or any of the JA Advisory Committee members.

Overall, members of the Selection Committee were pleased with the forum and suggestions made in it. Though SC members had hoped for a larger turnout, th
ey said they recognized that there are flaws in the system and are open to ideas about how to improve the process.

“The JA system is not a perfect one; very few people deny that,” said Tamamoto. “One of the main reasons we held this forum was because we wanted to hear from anyone who had anything to share. It was slightly disappointing when most of the people who turned out are, have been, or will be JAs themselves. Despite that fact, the possible changes proposed regarding the JA system will likely affect the entire campus, hopefully in a positive way. This forum was exciting and productive for all who attended, and hopefully some of these great ideas will be seen through to fruition.”