Admissions officers in United States universities are now debating how far their acceptance policies should dig into applicants’ lives, after Harvard University rescinded offers to 10 incoming freshmen over obscene content they posted in a private Facebook group.
The Associated Press (via Boston.com) called the Harvard episode earlier this month an “eye-opener” for admissions offices, in addition to sparking a nationwide debate on free speech and student conduct on campuses.
“We’re going to continue to watch how this unfolds and, with other higher ed institutions, learn from it,” University of Wisconsin in Green Bay spokesman Janet Bonkowski said.
To post or not to post: College admissions experts offer tips after Harvard ousts students for Facebook messages. https://t.co/FwL5villDD
— AP West Region (@APWestRegion) June 19, 2017
At least 10 incoming freshmen lost their offers to the Ivy League school after it discovered they were trading memes and images mocking sexual assault, child abuse and the Holocaust as well as messages targeting ethnic or racial groups in private group chats.
Harvard spokesman Rachael Dane told Buzzfeed News the university “reserves the right to withdraw an offer of admission under the following conditions, which are clearly expressed to students upon their admission.”
One such condition is when the students’ conduct “brings into question their honesty, maturity or moral character.”
For Nancy Beane, who presides over the National Association for College Admission Counseling (Nacac), Harvard’s non-tolerance for racist comments should be the standard for all colleges and universities
“We’re all humans. We’re all going to make mistakes and poor choices in our lives, but there are consequences,” Beane said.
“I’m not sure why we’ve decided people can say whatever they want, do whatever they want, and there are no consequences for it.”
— Kimberly Jones (@kimjones214) June 18, 2017
David Cruz, a 22-year-old University of Nevada in Las Vegas student, thinks Harvard did the right thing. He pointed to other schools whose track record over unscrupulous student misconduct have been criticised for doing too little, too late.
“Their students acted on their own, but that also represents the school,” Cruz, who studies hospitality management said.
“Whatever you post, everyone can see it, whether you’re trying to hide it or not.”
But dropping a student due to how they act on social media does not rank high among the reasons why higher education institutions usually rescind admission offers. A 2015 Nacac survey at more than 1,700 colleges found less than a third reported revoking offers in a year. Close to 70 percent were due to the application being dishonest, while 20 percent said it was because of a disciplinary issue.
For most schools, analysing a student’s behaviour on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites is still not the thing to do. The University of Wisconsin is one of them, and it does not plan on changing that anytime soon.
Most institutions will act only if a questionable social media post is brought to their attention.
Harvey Mudd College in California‘s admission director Peter Osgood said while the school had not gone as far as revoking an offer, which is deemed a “last resort” move, it has dealt privately with a student over an “objectionable” post.
— The Boston Globe (@BostonGlobe) June 7, 2017
“This matter was dealt with privately and discreetly, and that student became a wonderful citizen for the college, even a much-valued tour guide,” Osgood said.
The debate falls further than the admissions offices. Harvard’s revoke has sparked a debate among students in other universities and in their very own private chat groups, a sophomore at Yale University wrote for The New Yorker.
In a meme group called “Yale Memes for Special Snowflake Teens”, one student said: “I do not know how those offensive images could be defended”, while another wrote, “If the meme is too dank, you’ll walk the plank”, referring to one execution method practiced on special occasion by pirates and other seafarers.
When one member posted The Harvard Crimson article that broke the news of the loss of offers with a message to “stay safe” (from being caught by the more politically-correct), one student rebuked the caution – it’s not about being caught by (a) university officer, it’s about being on the right side of morality.
“How about just common human decency?”