Should Campus Controversies Discourage Applicants?

Whether you watch the sports page or stay up-to-date with the latest news from the Occupy movement, you've probably noticed some high-profile academic scandals in the news lately. Should prospective students take scandals like these into account when deciding where to apply to college?

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By Sarah Wright

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Higher Education Scandals in the News

Some of the nation's largest and most high-profile academic institutions have recently made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Child rape and cover-up scandals have hit high-profile athletic and administrative staff at Penn State and Syracuse. U.C. Davis has been facing a wave of criticism for campus police use of pepper spray on students peacefully gathering to join the Occupy Wall Street movement. These incidents have brought on a wave of unwanted negative publicity for the schools in question, and that negative publicity may have some prospective students opting to not apply to schools in which they were previously interested.

Should Your Decisions Change?

Your decision to attend a troubled institution is likely to depend heavily on how you feel about the moral issues at the core of these controversies. Some students may feel, for example, that one bad apple staff member doesn't reflect on the entirety of an institution. Others may feel that student protesters deserve whatever treatment they get from campus police, regardless of whether they were assembling peacefully or not.

This line of reasoning has its merits - academic institutions are comprised of a wide variety of individuals, and it's not unreasonable to think that a problem with the football team shouldn't matter to a student who doesn't care about the sport. But there are good reasons that a scandal should make students think twice about attending a particular school.

Questionable Leadership

Whether you agree with the Occupy movement's goals or not - even if you think that protesting is always pointless - there is a valid argument to be made that Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi failed to protect her students. Officers deployed the pepper spray in response to Katehi's own order for the Occupy Davis encampments to be closed down. Students nonviolently resisted the order to disperse, and were eventually sprayed - despite, Katehi said in a campus town hall on November 22, her order that officers not use force. Many students and faculty at the school have expressed frustration with the Chancellor's response to the incident, and some are calling for her to step down. The officers responsible for spraying the students are on paid administrative leave.

Again, politics don't have to factor in to the decision that perhaps one wouldn't want to attend a school overseen by a chancellor who seems to think it's acceptable for peaceful students to be pepper sprayed on campus. Similarly, the moral and legal shortcomings of the Penn State administration in their handling of assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky's on-campus rape of several young boys is a reasonable moral red flag to prospective students. The moral leadership of an institution that attempts to sweep such activities under the rug is certainly questionable. However, the University's response, which included firing Penn's president and other leaders responsible for the cover-up, may be seen as an adequate response.

Previously, campus ROTC has been the focus of controversy.

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