Rankings, Ethics, and Transparency

Claremont McKenna College is a "Top 10" liberal arts school. It is on the front page of the Education section of the New York Times. Publications like USA TODAY, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, TIME, Bloomberg, ABC, and countless others are all writing about us. Finally, people all over the country are talking about that “small, selective liberal arts college in California.”

This is definitely not how I pictured it would happen.

Students and professors are shaking their heads in disgust, and Pomona students are preparing “S-A-T” chants for the next basketball game.

I am the first one to tell you that rankings matter. You may, in fact, recall the Forum article I wrote last fall in which I argued that CMC’s rise in the national rankings changed people’s perception about the school. Claremont’s ascension into the ‘elite’ tier of liberal arts colleges convinced many students who would have otherwise gone elsewhere to choose CMC. Perhaps you are one of them.

So, yes, rankings do matter.

Do they matter too much? What could drive a “senior administrator” to adjust already-great scores? There are many unknowns here, but one thing is absolutely clear: there’s no excuse for cheating. Period.

No increase in applications, donations, or rankings could possibly justify risking CMC’s reputation. Nothing can justify fudging the numbers at any time. The fact that the admissions office apparently did it for six years straight is truly disturbing.

Claremont McKenna prides itself as an institution that educates leaders. CMC graduates often go on to run for public office or lead successful businesses. Teaching ethical conduct, no matter the circumstances or competition, is one of the most important lessons a school can teach.

The blame game has already started. Former Dean of Admissions Richard C. Vos is no longer employed by CMC. Honestly, I don’t know who is responsible. Instead of calling for scapegoats, however, I am calling for answers.

The administration owes the Claremont community a further explanation.

Where is the transparency after-the-fact? The news broke after one vague email to the student body, and after 36 hours, the Office of Public Affairs has not released any more information except that the Dean of Admissions has been replaced. Trying to close the book on the issue with an email saying we caught the bad guy and hired lawyers won’t suffice. I understand that there may be legal reasons certain details cannot be revealed, but some very general questions need to be answered before we can move on.

I want to know how these discrepancies came to light. Why now? The administration apparently found out about this in January. Does that mean January 1st? Does that mean Monday morning? Does the timing of this incident just happen to be after applications have been turned in? Was there internal or external pressure to climb the rankings? Were there cutoffs the admissions department were told to meet? Were there incentives in place that may have motivated the individual to manipulate the scores? Most of all, I would like to know how this could have happened – for six years – without anyone else knowing about it at a college that is built on leadership, accountability, and integrity.

The fact that President Gann publicized this information is an important first step. This could have been swept under the rug completely, but it wasn't. An official from Public Affairs has agreed to address the Student Senate next week. That is a crucial next step.

We need more information. We need to have an open discussion about what happened and how we can move forward from here. The best way to get past this is to understand it and learn from it. Transparency is the only way to end the speculation and conspiracy theories. Only shedding light on the issue will bring us closure.

Is this the end of CMC as we know it? No. Will future employers look at recent grads any differently? Probably not. But will CMC’s reputation be stained indefinitely? Maybe.

Current, future, and past students had nothing to do with this incident, but we now have to pay the price.

The pride that I have in my peers and professors at Claremont McKenna remains unchanged. My professors are no less brilliant, and my peers are no less amazing. The spectacular experience that I have had here as a student cannot ever be taken away from me. My future degree is not any less meaningful to me than it was on Sunday.

But we need information. We need answers.

We need to talk openly about this, because this matters. Yes, rankings matter. Ethics, however, matter more.