News, University News

Advancement Office arranges meetings between faculty, certain prospective students

Current, former faculty suggest practice favors wealthy, well-connected students

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, March 21, 2019

The University's Advancement Office facilitated meetings between faculty and prospective students, some of whom were also Brown trustee referrals, according to emails reviewed by The Herald.

For at least two decades, the Advancement Office has facilitated one-on-one meetings between faculty and certain prospective students, occasionally asking faculty members to contribute notes to the students’ admission files, according to emails reviewed by The Herald.

Over the past few weeks, the Advancement Office has come under increased scrutiny by the Brown community following news that the Office had helped facilitate private dinners.

One email from the Advancement Office asked a professor to write a note to the Admissions Office after he met with a student: “If you gained positive insights into his character, aptitude or motivation that would be helpful to the Board of Admission, it would be appreciated if you could forward a note to the Admission Office reflecting your impressions for inclusion in his dossier.”

In additional emails sent between 2015 and 2018, reviewed by The Herald, the Advancement Office asked a faculty member to meet with three different prospective students, calling each “a trustee referral.”

The faculty members who provided these emails requested anonymity for fear of professional repercussions.

Students can meet with faculty members through a “parent engagement team in the Division of Advancement (that) coordinates a campus visit program open to all Brown (alums), parents and friends,” wrote Senior Vice President for Advancement Sergio Gonzalez in an email to The Herald. “This is one of many ways we maintain strong relationships with members of our community.”

The meetings between faculty and certain prospective students do not translate into advantages in the admission process, Gonzalez wrote. “Advancement staff have no influence on the admission process and we make it clear to the families who use the program that a campus visit does not increase a prospective student’s chance of admission.” Gonzalez acknowledged that the Advancement Office gave faculty members the option to contribute impressions of a student to help the Admission Office see a “student’s interest in Brown and active engagement with our campus.”

But “the division discontinued this practice two years ago,” he wrote.

But The Herald reviewed an April 2018 email from the Advancement Office which told a professor to “feel free to send a note to the Admission Office for inclusion” in the student’s file after the professor had met with a student and voluntarily provided his positive impression of their conversation to Advancement. The professor requested anonymity for fear of professional repercussions.

Professor of Biology Kenneth Miller ’70 said that over the past 20 years, he has been contacted around two or three times a year by the Advancement Office with requests to meet with certain prospective students.

“When I get an email of this sort from the Advancement Office, I know very well what it means,” Miller said. “The Advancement Office clearly considers this student and their family a prospect for future fundraising.”

The Admission Office was not aware of any effort by the Advancement Office to coordinate these meetings and solicit faculty feedback on the students, wrote Dean of Admission Logan Powell in an email to The Herald. “I cannot recall even a single instance of learning that a prospective student’s letter of recommendation from a faculty member came as a result of interactions with Advancement,” he wrote. “A surface-level recommendation based on a brief interaction and no direct and sustained experience working with a prospective student would offer very little to an application.”

Miller said he is usually asked to show students around campus and sometimes meet their parents. After these meetings with prospective students, Miller said the Advancement Office occasionally asked him to provide an impression of the visit. “Usually I simply decline,” he said.

Miller does not recall being asked to submit his impressions to the Admission Office over the past few years.    

Former Professor of Public Policy and Political Science Darrell West wrote an article last week for the Brookings Institution on how the University provides “special treatment for offspring of the prominent and well heeled,” including meetings with certain prospective students facilitated by Advancement.

In an interview with The Herald, West said during his time at the University from 1982 to 2008, he was contacted by the Advancement Office to meet with prospective students “between half a dozen and a dozen times.” He received these requests by email and over the phone. Because West no longer has access to his University email, The Herald was not able to review these exchanges.

“It was clear that (the students) were the offspring either of somebody rich or famous,” West said. Such meetings fostered “inequity between the children of the rich and famous versus first-generation students because the typical applicant isn’t famous or wealthy,” he said.

But Gonzalez wrote that the Advancement campus visit program benefits alums, “parents and friends from many backgrounds, including individuals who are unlikely to have a philanthropic relationship with the University.”

Meeting with certain prospective students in this manner was standard practice when West worked at the University, he said. “It seemed to be the norm at that time,” he added. “I know it was not limited to me — there were other people who were asked to do the same thing, and people generally do it.”

West was not always asked to write a note on his interactions. But when asked, “sometimes I would write a letter summarizing the meeting and giving the impressions of the student,” he said.

In light of the recent nationwide admissions scandal, Miller has decided he will no longer meet with prospective students in this context. “I’ve thought double, triple and quadruple about whether or not I should say yes to the Advancement Office on this, and I’ve decided I’m not going to do it anymore,” he said. “They haven’t contacted me yet this year, but if they do, I’ll probably say no.”

Another faculty member who asked to remain anonymous for fear of personal repercussions said that between 2012 and 2014, they were asked by the Advancement Office to meet with prospective students on three separate occasions. Though they have not been contacted to do so since, the professor also decided after the admissions scandal that they would not fulfill future requests from the Advancement Office to meet with prospective students.

This professor was not asked to write impressions of the students they met, but said they felt that meeting with certain prospective students gives them unfair advantages regardless.

In his email to The Herald, Powell said the University maintains a commitment to “the highest levels of fairness and integrity in our admissions process,” adding that the process “is fair and equitable to every student.”

— With additional reporting by Jacob Lockwood

This article appeared in print under the headline “U. office plans meetings between faculty, prospective students.”