Posted by the Editorial Board
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case on affirmative action in institutions of higher education. While Skidmore College is a private institution and is not subject to the same admission guidelines as state universities, the case provides us the opportunity to examine our own policies — those of our past and present.
The Supreme Court's decision in the new case, Fisher v. Texas, has the potential to undo its 5-4 decision in 2003's Gutter v. Bollinger, which forbids public universities from using a points system to ensure minority enrollment, but allows race and ethnicity to be taken into consideration in a less explicit manner. Fisher, who was denied entry into the Texas public university system, argues that the state cannot supplement their race-neutral admissions policy with one that is race-conscious.
While the outcome of the coming decision will not have an effect on private institutions like Skidmore, it provides the occasion to examine our past policies and how our admissions process will shape Skidmore's classes in the future.
Skidmore's current admissions policies and commitment to ensuring diversity has come a long way from the practices enacted at the college's founding. Professor Mary C. Lynn, in her book, "Make No Small Plans: A History of Skidmore College," details some of Skidmore's embarrassing policies of previous decades. "Certain admissions practices, while common at the time throughout the country, were unfair, undemocratic, and opposed the early values of Skidmore's own history," she writes.
African American students were not welcome at Skidmore until the 1940s and Skidmore's admissions policy heavily discriminated against Jewish students for decades.
Despite the undesirable admissions practices in the 20s and 30s, in 1943 English Professor Joseph Bolton, under the direction of President Henry T. Moore's, wrote a quickly adopted non-discrimination policy: "Skidmore College as an institution favors a policy of non-discrimination as regards racial, nationality, and religious group relations."
"By 1949, Skidmore returned to the values of its founder and actively recruited students of color, even searching for scholarship funds so that more African American students could attend." Lynn adds.
Skidmore's admission process considers several factors in a students academics and background in their decisions. Admissions prefers to see that, for the most part, when advanced courses are offered, applicants have chosen to challenge themselves. Grades are obviously an important factor in the admissions decision, but it is secondary to a rigorous course load.
Dean of Admissions, Mary Lou Bates, explains how the Admissions Committee selects a class from thousands of qualified applications: "This year we have nearly 5750 applications, the vast majority of whom are qualified, yet we can only accept about 40% of them. We look for students who have taken rigorous academic programs and done well in them but we look at other factors, as well. We don't simply admit a class by the numbers of gpa and test scores. We are committed to creating a community that is diverse and inclusive, representing students from different ethnic, racial, social economic and geographic backgrounds so these are plus factors as we sort amongst thousands of qualified applicants."
Skidmore, as an institution, does a lot right when it comes to selecting prospective students. In addition to a student's academic credentials, the Admissions Office makes an effort to ensure several levels of diversity are represented in each incoming class. The office considers a student's socioeconomic situation, geographical location, athletic ability and musical talent. The combination of all of these factors prevents a homogeneity and ensures both academic excellence and a diverse student body.
However, still it may behoove us look for other ways to make our student body more representative of the general population.
One of the factors that Admissions considers is a student's financial means. Skidmore College is not a need-blind institution. Our sister institutions are split on whether or not to consider a students ability to pay. Our sister institutions, such as Hamilton, Vassar and Smith are all need-blind. While Skidmore's need-conscious policy helps ensure that the school's balance sheet is in the black, it does have some effect on the school's demographics.
Since its accreditation as a college in 1922, Skidmore has come a long way in expanding its opportunities. In general, our efforts to ensure a multi-faceted diversity on campus are effective. In addition to the good work that we are already doing, it may be worthwhile to weigh the pros and cons of our current need-conscious policy and what effects it has on the incoming classes.