High Scores, Hiring, and the High Ground

The Claremont Colleges haven’t been buzzing like this since that security alert warning us about the danger of a crazed Mudd alumnus. Both Claremont McKenna (CMC) and Pomona are in the New York Times this week, and not for anything nice. CMC’s VP of Admissions pulling a “reverse Scripps” and inflating SAT scores is embarrassing and painful for its students who know they have nothing to prove. (Although I have to wonder if the Kravis Center is somehow sentient and has engineered the revelations so that its beauty may be admired throughout the land. If so, well played, Kravis.) On the other side of Sixth Street, seeing the acrimonious events of last December splashed across national news again—revives a longstanding discussion that continues to divide the Pomona community.

With respect to intercollegiate relations, this has brought out the worst in us. Many at Pomona got to engage in some short-lived schadenfreude, their suspicions of CMC as a venal, rankings-crazed little sister —dare I say it, a social climber—totally confirmed. Meanwhile, the Pomona administration’s document checks that resulted in 17 people losing their jobs served to further a perception present within and without the campus community: sagehens are insulated, elitist snobs who would rather pontificate about rights and equality than work to protect them.

How to make lemonade out of these local, organic lemons? It’s no fun to become an object lesson for national debate, but that’s exactly what we are. The Kafkaesque path to becoming “legal” needs to be reformed, and those who are fired, detained, and deported are people, not just problems to be resolved. It’s twisted that a ten-point difference in a student’s SAT score is negligible but an institution’s average is worth risking a career. Those in glass houses (or admissions offices) shouldn’t throw stones, and we do ourselves and the Consortium a disservice to gloat over the tarnishing of each other’s reputation. Our schools are not shining examples at the moment, but we should be.

Pomona, Claremont McKenna, and the other 5Cs should resign from the rankings game and instead pledge greater accountability and transparency to whom it is truly owed: students, faculty, and staff. What makes us great is not high test scores, new buildings, or massive endowments, much less nebulous “prestige.” It is each campus’s commitment to excellence, our faculty’s dedication to students, and the open and lively debate of the close-knit Claremont community that distinguish us. We are leaders, activists, and innovators, and we are better than this.

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