Editor’s note: The following editorial column will appear in the February print issue of the Claremont Port Side, to be released Friday, February 24. The issue contains further analysis of Claremont McKenna’s SAT score manipulation scandal, and will be available online and outside 5C dining halls.
Since the day I was admitted to Claremont McKenna, I’ve consistently received one message from the College’s administration: we want you to take over the world. All 1,289 CMC students are “Leaders in the Making®.” (Yes, it’s trademarked.)
Variations of the word “leader” appear 8,490 times on CMC’s website. We host a conference on leadership, sponsor internships in leadership, and have a research institute dedicated to leadership. Applying to CMC? You’ll have to write an essay about a leader. And with just five classes, the “Leadership Sequence” can appear on your degree. We’re not into subliminal messaging.
It’s understandable that a college that builds leaders would want to be a leader itself. High rankings and prestige are part of that equation. When former Dean of Admissions Richard Vos came to CMC in 1987, we were number 23 on the U.S. News list. By the time President Pamela Gann started in 1999, we’d moved up to 14. And now – deserved or not – we’re number nine.
Rankings are especially important for schools with poor name recognition. Luckily, CMC’s name recognition got a recent boost when the New York Times called us “prestigious,” “elite,” and “comparable to some Ivy League schools.” The only problem: those descriptions came under the headline “College Says It Exaggerated SAT Figures For Ratings.”
“Disbelief” was Gann’s first reaction when she learned that a senior administrator – Vos – had been reporting inflated SAT scores since 2005. That was my reaction, too. And I’m still in disbelief. But I’m also disappointed – not just in the person who got us into this mess, but in the aftermath. As a “leader in the making,” I’m disappointed in my college’s leadership.
Gann’s initial response to the scandal was strong. But since the Jan. 30 email and subsequent interview with student media, she’s been silent. Sans Gann, four administration officials addressed ASCMC Senate a week after the news broke. While it was nice to hear that consulting firms will still accept our job applications, the meeting did little to rebuild students’ trust in our administrators. Kravis Kube isn’t even open 24/7, but it’s far more accessible and transparent than the administration.
Many questions remain, but there is one that is particularly frustrating: After almost twenty successful years at CMC, why did Dean Vos feel the need to begin inflating test scores in 2005? I doubt it was solely an internal decision; something or someone pressured him to cheat. Cheating, at the school that trains leaders? You don’t need to take Ethics and American Political Leadership to see the problem.
And possibly worse, with no checks and balances system in place, Vos must have thought that his cheating wouldn’t be caught. Evidently, the administration forgot about the first Federalist quote CMC professors drill into every Gov. 20 student: “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.” Leadership 101.
These leadership failures trouble many members of our community, who call for open communication, transparency, and accountability. But – as many of the comments in the national media and the questions at the ASCMC meeting indicate – some students find saving CMC’s reputation more important than holding the College accountable. And based on the feel-good reassurances that dominated the Senate discussion, the administration agrees.
CMC can run dozens of leadership programs, but leadership is best taught by example. Do we want our future leaders to be more concerned about making themselves look good, or with bringing the full truth to light? Should they be ethical and accessible, or foster an environment that allows cheating? This scandal offers an opportunity for the CMC community to reevaluate what kind of leaders we are making.