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Paxson responds to national admissions scandal

University will review admission process, alumni relations, athlete recruitment

President Christina Paxson P’19 responded to the national admissions cheating scandal yesterday in an email to the University community, acknowledging the scandal “has raised questions about the integrity of the admissions process at selective colleges and universities” and detailing a plan for Brown moving forward.

To address these concerns, Paxson is charging a joint committee of faculty and Corporation members to examine the integrity and equity of the University’s admission process, and the University is reviewing all its practices and policies — including “alumni and donor relations, residential life and academic matters” — to ensure students are treated equitably, Paxson wrote in the email.

“Brown’s core values include commitments to academic excellence, access and equity,” Paxson wrote. “I feel strongly that students should be admitted to Brown based on demonstrated achievement and future promise, regardless of their ability to pay for college. And, once students come to campus, they deserve to be treated equally, with no special preferences due to family wealth or connections.”

The bribery scandal has sparked debate about questions of equity in admission, including what advantages students from wealthy backgrounds receive and “whether test scores reflect qualifications of students across the income distribution,” Paxson wrote. The new ad hoc Committee on Equity and Integrity in Admissions will consider these and other questions of equity in admission. The committee will also investigate whether the University’s admission process has “adequate safeguards” against manipulation, she wrote.

Provost Richard Locke P’18 and Maria Zuber, chair of the Corporation’s Academic Affairs Committee, will co-chair the ad hoc committee. While the committee will include only faculty and Corporation members due to privacy and confidentiality concerns, it will consult with students, staff and alums and aim to report its findings in the fall, Paxson wrote.

Though the University has not been implicated in the nationwide admissions scandal, which began last month when the U.S. Department of Justice indicted over 40 individuals for bribery to influence college admissions, the University conducted a review of all varsity athletes enrolled in the past four years and found no instances of bribery or deception, Paxson wrote. “None of the indicted families have children at Brown, and none of the indicted athletics staff has  worked at Brown,” she wrote.

Gordon Ernst ’89, a Division I tennis coach indicted in the scandal, was offered a position at the University in 2016 while he was allegedly accepting millions of dollars in bribes, The Herald previously reported.

The University’s Office of Institutional Risk Management, Audit and Compliance and the athletics department will work together to strengthen “protocols and procedures around (athlete) admissions,” Paxson wrote.

Paxson noted that the University cannot identify falsified SAT scores, which many of the indictments alleged. “We rely on the integrity of the testing process,” she wrote. “It is very disturbing that the integrity of the testing process was compromised, and we understand that there may be more federal indictments to come.”

Paxson also responded to recent criticism of practices at the University, including invitations to private dinners sent to students by the Advancement Office, charges of unfair treatment in the housing process and instances of Advancement employees asking faculty to meet with and write admission notes for certain prospective students, as The Herald previously reported.

“Preferential treatment, real or suspected, for students based on wealth or privilege is corrosive to our community,” Paxson wrote. “We are looking carefully at all our practices across the University — from alumni and parent engagement, to residential life, to academic concerns, to student conduct — to make sure that favoritism has no influence on students’ experiences.”



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