Williams has no students who are veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The door to veterans remains slammed shut. Several years of exasperating correspondence have revealed no greater reason for this than that Board of Trustees President Greg Avis ’80 and the Board of Trustees are at best indifferent and at worst opposed to admitting veterans. This ties the hands of President Falk or anyone at the College who would seek to recruit veterans.
Some comparative information: Wesleyan and Amherst each have five veterans. Conduct a Google search of “Amherst” or “Wesleyan” and “veterans,” and you end up on the admissions web pages, both of which have welcoming information. Williams has no such information on its web pages. The key financial information for veterans is what a college contributes to the Yellow Ribbon program, which covers the difference between the base $18,000 post-Sept. 11 G.I. Bill payment and the cost for a private college.
On the Department of Veterans Affairs page where veterans look, Amherst has an “Unlimited” contribution, Wesleyan has $22,679 and Williams has $5,000.”
The current sorry news in this story is that the College has declined to participate in the new Posse Foundation program to bring veterans to top colleges next fall. My classmate, former Williams provost and now Vassar President Catharine Hill ’76, invented that program with Posse founder Debbie Bial. The first ‘posse’ of 11 is preparing to enroll at Vassar in September. That group includes two students from Bunker Hill Community College (BHCC), where I work and teach.
The Posse Foundation board voted the Vassar/Posse program to life one day in January 2012, when Hill and I were in Washington, D.C., meeting with Pentagon officials about helping veterans gain acceptance to college. Our meeting followed a letter Hill received from a Pentagon colonel after publishing an op-ed in a Jan. 2012 issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer on veterans and selective colleges (“Colleges owe much to veterans,” Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan. 4, 2012).
Educating veterans, especially those who have been in combat, is hard work. I know this because BHCC has 500 veterans this semester. To make the obvious point, if my overworked colleagues and I can help veterans succeed with little funding at a community college, imagine what the Williams faculty could achieve for a dozen of these men and women.
I’ve invited Avis to BHCC to meet veterans, to evaluate for himself whether any could succeed at the College. Nope. He said he didn’t see the point of such a visit. Two trustees from Massachusetts, Mike Eisenson ’77 and Laurie Thomsen ’79, have declined to reply to two separate invitations. The Office of Admission will not visit these veterans. And most disappointing, my favorite English professor, Professor of English Bob Bell, said he was too busy to visit these men and women.
This enduring stubborn refusal to reach out to these veterans baffles and saddens me. To ease discussion of my wish that Williams enroll veterans, let me offer paraphrased replies to the arguments given from Williamstown.
“We’re happy to consider veterans who apply. Veterans aren’t applying. Perhaps they don’t want to go to a rural college with few non-traditional students.”
That such circular logic survives at Williams is for another op-ed. Of course veterans don’t apply. The website does not welcome them. The College has no veterans enrolled and no accommodations for veterans. Neither did Dartmouth, until the school put services in place. Williams already knows that attracting the best possible applicant pool requires recruiting and marketing. The admissions officers travel thousands of miles each year looking for the best and the brightest to attend Williams. If the Williams admission office webpages are silent on veterans and if no one from the College is looking for veterans, why would veterans apply?
“The $5,000 published cap in on Yellow Ribbon/G.I. Bill benefits is not a problem. Our need-based aid would cover the rest.”
Then publish “Unlimited,” as Amherst does. Very few, even the 1 percent, understand all the nuances of financial aid. This program, in which the college and the federal government can split the difference between the basic $18,000 post-Sept. 11 G.I. Bill payment and the $50,000 plus cost to attend Williams and other private colleges is available also to dependents of veterans. Here’s the math of the Williams message. If the cost of attendance is $50,000, with the $18,000 payment that leaves $32,000 still to pay. With a $5,000 cap for Williams and the federal match of $5,000, that’s $10,000 toward the remaining $32,000. Veterans would, and do, assume they would need to pay the remaining $22,000 to attend Williams.
This sad story continues. A couple of years ago, a 20-year Navy veteran who retired home to Williamstown wrote to me. His dream had been to attend Williams when he retired. Nothing doing. Impossible. Non-traditional student? Can’t even consider it. The Admissions Office wasn’t even friendly, he told me. This veteran has family working at the College. This veteran now attends MCLA. That’s not the end. This veteran was the Williamstown Veterans’ Day speaker last fall. He told me that no one from the College even attended the ceremony.
I’ll close with a quote from Hill’s fine op-ed: “The veterans now returning home have helped make it possible for many young people – predominantly those from more affluent families – to go from high school directly to college without worrying about being drafted for military service.”
Williams can still join the Posse Foundation veterans program for Fall 2014. I hope some of you reading this will urge Avis and the Board of Trustees to do just that.
Wick Sloane ’76 teaches writing at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston and writes a column for ‘Inside Higher Ed.’