Transparency and the Legacy of Dean Richard Vos

IAMCMC. In addition, IAMPROFOUNDLYDISAPPOINTED. On April 17, the law firm O’Melveny & Myers LLP released “Investigative Report Prepared on behalf of The Board of Trustees of Claremont McKenna College.” The document, authored by Apalla U. Chopra and Carolyn Kubota, analyzes the manipulation of admissions data by Dean Richard Vos, labeled “VP,” between 2004 and 2011. The report heartily announces:

“We found that the VP reported inaccurate SAT, ACT, class rank, and application statistics beginning as early as 2004. With respect to SAT statistics, we confirmed that the College's initial disclosures about the VP's conduct, and the College’s corrected SAT statistics issued the week of January 30, 2012, were accurate.”

There is good news. Based on the findings of Chopra and Kubota’s examination, it doesn’t look like the dishonesty spread beyond the personal office of Richard Vos. Furthermore, they conclude that Vos did not experience extreme pressure or direct financial incentives to improve SAT scores. So it doesn’t look like there was a broad, malicious conspiracy for which Dean Vos took the fall or that he was a victim of the vicious pressure to excel in the higher education industry.

No conspiracy, just an embarrassing lack of oversight.

With the publication of this report, a cartoonish depiction of the formation of CMC’s admissions data over the last seven years is slowly taking shape. Vos played with SAT numbers, ACT numbers, application statistics, and statistics related to the portion of CMC students who placed in the top 10 percent of their high school classes. So how did he conduct this brilliant and shrewd manipulation?

According to the report, while falsifying CMC students’ ACT scores, “he said he would either report the same ACT statistics he had reported the year before, or he would create statistics that appeared correct based on his ‘educated judgment’ or ‘extrapolations.’”

Not only was the process pulled out of a hat, but it wasn’t even repeatable: “The VP also was unable to replicate the Top 10% statistic he reported for 2011. From this file-by-file review, we concluded that the VP’s method was undocumented, not replicable, and ad hoc.”

In his defense, Vos “stated that the compilation of class rank statistics is an ‘art not a science.’” Somehow, I don’t think CMC’s statistics professors would agree.

Even Vos' method of recording his inaccurate statistics seems to invite dishonesty. The report explains, “The VP stated he was not technologically proficient. He told us that he did not, and lacked the expertise to, alter data in the database. Instead, when he compiled inaccurate statistics, the VP used paper, a pencil, and a calculator.”

These calculations were promptly thrown away.

Dean Vos’ poorly conceived tactics of manipulation were successful only because there existed an egregious lack of accountability in the system. In an interview with the Forum and other campus press, President Pamela Gann pointed to his exclusive control of the calculation of admissions statistics and his efforts to conceal his activities as reasons for his ability to report fraudulent scores for nearly a decade. “He was a long-time, highly trusted, senior member of the College,” said Gann. This trust was so extensive that, as Gann added, the school “did not have at the college a process in place to independently verify the admissions data after he reported it.”

Not even another employee within Vos' own office took a sincere look at the numbers.

Gann emphasized that the process has been revamped dramatically, and that it is her intention to “have a set of written guidelines, and those will be on the website.” Hopefully this new system will prove more effective.

As far as college scandals go, we’re still doing better than Pennsylvania State, but the fact remains that this should never have happened, and probably would not have under more attentive leadership. Rather than feeling betrayed by Dean Vos, a man I’ve never met, I am left with a deep sense of disappointment in the school’s administration. Hopefully, this will serve as a powerful reminder of the importance of transparency and accountability for CMC’s staff and a lesson in effective management for its students.