Tuesday, November 21, 2006

He Should Have Gone with My Script

Earlier today I speculated tongue-in-cheek about how Penn State University flack Bill Mahon would spin the spanking Penn State received in the Education Trust report Engines of Inequality: Diminishing Equality in the Nation's Premier Public Universities. Well, there is no longer any need for speculation. Inside Higher Ed has Mahon's response to the report. It is his standard angry denial which he employs so often when the University is placed in a bad light or criticized. Just click on the Mahon label over in the right hand column to see other examples of this. Here is his emailed response to Inside Higher Ed.

Some officials bristled. Bill Mahon, a spokesman for Pennsylvania State University, which was among the universities that received an overall grade of F, said in an e-mail that he was “not impressed with the superficial analysis of the statistics [Education Trust] gathered.” Penn State’s F for minority access is ironic, he wrote, given that “we have increased minority enrollment every year for at least the past decade, even though located in a part of a state with an extremely small minority population.” He noted that black enrollment has grown to 4,481 this year from 2,864 in 1996, and that “Penn State (Grade ‘F’) has more than twice the number of minority students enrolled than the entire student body of the University of Alaska Fairbanks (Grade ‘A’).

“Penn State has been on the right track for more than a decade and will continue to move forward on minority enrollment and access issues in the future,” Mahon added. “We are proud of what we have done and where the institution is going.”

The worst part of Mahon's response is how bad it makes Penn State look when compared to how other officials responded. Here is a compendium of the other responses. You be the judge.

  • “The inference of this report and the basis for the grading of flagships is that their responsibility is to reflect the demographics of the state,” said Shirley A. Ort, associate provost and director of scholarships and student aid at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which received an overall D grade in the report despite its recent efforts at expanding access for low income students. “I say that it’s not, not based upon our charter, anyhow. It’s to make sure that excellence remains the hallmark of a flagship, and that we are welcoming and inclusive of those students who have demonstrated the aptitude and preparation to meet our admissions standards.”

  • William E. (Brit) Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, whose flagship campus, the University of Maryland at College Park, received an overall grade of D, said he hoped the Education Trust’s “important” report would “help to bring attention to what I think is really becoming a crisis in our country: the underrepresentation of low income students, many of whom are minorities, at our colleges and universities.” Like officials at several other institutions, he said the report’s several-year-old data may fail to account for steps that College Park and other universities have taken in the last two years to bolster access for low income and minority students.

    And “no one should fault flagship campuses or any other university for aspiring to improve its quality, and to become recognized as a very high quality institution,” Kirwan said. But he added that he agreed at least partially with the report’s contention “that in that pursuit of excellence, certain things have become distorted,” including the push toward merit-based rather than need-based aid. “That is something that we have to address on our campuses,” Kirwan said. “It cannot continue along this path."

  • “The flagship public universities strongly believe in their social and economic mobility role and they will want to review the study carefully,” said Peter McPherson, president of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges. “We have some methodology questions about the survey and some of the data is dated. We do recognize there is an imbalance in the distribution of need vs. merit-based aid. The input-oriented ranking systems are probably the driving factor here. Universities, however, do have an important responsibility in this area.”

  • And Robert Berdahl, president of the Association of American Universities, added: “All of the AAU flagship campuses and the other selective public universities with which I am familiar take seriously their mission of providing opportunity for minorities and those from low-income backgrounds. To the degree their state laws permit, they work hard to increase the number of students from these backgrounds who attend and succeed at their institutions. While we might question the report’s methodology, its recommendations make sense, and our universities are already doing most of these things. But clearly there is more to be done to achieve the goal of full equality of opportunity.

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