New Question: What Role Does the President’s Office Play in UVa Admissions?

UVa spokesperson Anthony de Bruyn. Pay careful attention to what he says and how he says it.

The University of Virginia’s office of University Advancement curried favor for children of major donors by working through the office of President Teresa Sullivan rather than lobbying the admissions department directly.

That’s the big reveal in reporting by Daily Progress reporter Derek Quizon in his follow-up to the Washington Post reporting on documents showing that the University of Virginia’s fund-raising office routinely intervenes on behalf of applicants from families of potential donors.

More than 160 pages of records, uncovered by writer Jeff Thomas through a Freedom of Information Act request and given to the Washington Post, reveal dozens of instances in which the university advancement office monitored the progress of particular applicants through the admissions process.

Quizon built on the WaPo story by highlighting the fact that, rather than seeking to influence the admissions office directly, advancement officials often appealed to Sean Kirk Jenkins, a special assistant to President Teresa Sullivan. Jenkins is repeatedly referenced in the documents.

However, Quizon concludes after his review of the evidence, “It’s not clear how successful the advancement office was in these outreach efforts.”

University spokesman Anthony de Bruyn denied that the university favors the children of donors, but he conceded in communication with the Daily Progress that the advancement office does maintain contact with donors and alumni “recommending students who have an interest in attending UVa.”

De Bruyn’s statements (as quoted and paraphrased by Quizon) seem carefully wordsmithed.

“This practice allows development officers to serve as a buffer with those alumni, donors and friends who have provided prospective student endorsements during the admission cycle,” de Bruyn said. “However, the admissions office makes the independent determination on whether a student is admitted or not.”

In line with university protocol, the admissions office does not coordinate with the advancement office during the admissions process, de Bruyn said.

But the concern now isn’t that the advancement office coordinated with the admissions office, it’s that the advancement office coordinated with the president’s office and that Jenkins might have intervened with the admissions office. Quizon continues:

When asked whether the advancement office has ever successfully changed an applicant’s admission status, de Bruyn repeated that admissions officials are the only ones who determine who gets into the university.

“The advancement office does not determine whether an applicant is admitted,” he said.

Again, de Bruyn is answering Quizon’s queries very narrowly. Someone needs to ask him directly, “Does the president’s office ever seek to influence the admissions process?” Another question to ask: “Even if admissions officers have the final say on who gets in, does influence from the president’s office carry any weight?”

Bacon’s bottom line: Here’s what we know: (1) UVa donors and potential donors frequently seek special treatment for their children. (2) They enlist the help of the office of University Advancement. (3) University Advancement seeks to influence selections through the office of the President. We don’t know whether the office of the president exercises any influence on Admissions. But the FOIA documents and UVa’s careful response to questions fuel our suspicions.

Nothing de Bruyn said contradicts the hypothesis that Jenkins intervened on behalf of University Advancement, and it’s difficult to understand why advancement officials would have repeatedly worked through Jenkins unless they thought that he might be able to help them. But there is no proof. We cannot rule out the possibility that, in contravention of our cynical expectations, Jenkins never lifted a finger for the favor seekers.

Reporters covering this story should focus on the Jenkins connection. Thomas’ original Freedom of Information Act request was limited to the advancement office. Someone needs to expand the FOIA request to obtain Jenkins‘ communications with the admissions office.

At the same time, we need to be careful what we make of this favoritism, if in fact it occurs. As I mentioned in my previous post on this topic, we may be talking relatively small numbers — only 59 children of potential donors were mentioned in the FOIA documents. The actual number might have been larger — we don’t know for sure. But the number given preferential treatment, if indeed such treatment can be documented, could be much smaller. If a couple dozen of the roughly 10,000 students admitted to UVa this year benefited from favoritism, this is not a massive scandal. Yes, it strips away the veneer that UVa admits all students on a purely meritocratic basis (leavened by aggressive recruitment of minorities). That would put it in the same camp as every other university in the country. If there is a scandal, it is national in scope, and we have no way of no way of knowing whether UVa’s (alleged) sins are more or less egregious than those of any other institution.

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9 responses to “New Question: What Role Does the President’s Office Play in UVa Admissions?

  1. you mean sometimes life’s opportunities can be about who you know?

    good lord. Who KNEW!

  2. Sometimes the door is marked push and sometimes it is marked pull. Both can work. I suspect UVA has done what most other schools have done to varying degrees. Some more, some less. Reporters covering the story should find a better story unless part 2 is that these individual students then PASS when they shouldn’t.

  3. This post reminds me of three stories about Uva.

    I recall in the 1960’s being lectured to in 1.01 psychology class about the experts Pavlov on Dogs and B. F. Skinner on People. Pavlov had already won a Nobel Prize for his work. Skinner, even then had become the most celebrated psychologist of human behavior in the 20th Century. So they were taught in my Uva. classroom straight up, the best and the brightest, without qualification, as if they were Gods. Those classes certainly perked me up. I knew dogs. Pavlov obviously did not know dogs. Pavlov ripped the essences out of dogs. Skinner ripped the essence out of humans. Both men reminded me of monsters. Thereafter and ever since, every time I saw a dog hunt, or watched a man or woman do something remarkable on a difficult mountain, I remembered the twin monsters, Pavlov and Skinner. Science without education in the humanities breeds evil and stupidity.

    Another classroom experience was taught by the Head of the Political Science Department. The man worshiped at the altar of Woodrow Wilson. Even I, who had personal cause to admire Woodrow Wilson, smelled a rat. Day after day the man sung without reservation the praises of Woodrow Wilson. This professor is part of the grand tradition of ivory tower intellectuals making fools of themselves at the expense of their students.

    In the 1990s a major newspaper published an article that told the story of 2 senior class girls at Langley High School in Virginia who drove to Uva. together to interview for admission to UVa. the following year. The girls had grown up together, gone to school there together in Langley, were excellent students with exception records in high school and were closest of friends. Both were excited at the prospect of attending Uva. and rooming together.

    That relationship ended in UVa.’s admissions office. There the two girls were separated as soon as they walked through the door. Thereafter they were treated entirely differently. One got special treatment and attention in her own special interview and tour. The other girl got little of neither. She was white. Her friend was black So now their relationship was forever changed. Never again would they be real friends again, like they had before.

    You can be sure the President of UVa. tightly controls admissions. At base its a rigid and thoughtless system that is continuously rigged and updated to keep UVa. statistically rising up the highly contrived college ranking system based on nothing more than statistics dictated by those great experts on higher education at places like US News and World Report, who know nothing about great teaching or gra. Young kids like these two girls back in the 1990s are fodder for the system.

    • What, don’t you see the obvious comparison between the US News rankings and how it impacts the schools, and those poor rats in the Skinner box frantically running the maze to get their pellets? Seems obvious to me….

  4. We do a good job here criticizing UVa for going after State tax dollars, but there’s really only one other choice. Does UVa need alumni funds or doesn’t it? Well, if you do want alumni funds, you do the things you have to do to foster the school spirit and get the big donations. Hold your nose . . . .

  5. Hey.. I thought .. donations… were .. “free speech”.. and everyone has that right. no?

  6. UVA is becoming more and more obviously a corrupt enterprise. From secret and unfair admission practices (at a public institution) to secret $1B+ slush funds built on the backs of overcharged students to zero-due-process attacks on the fraternity and sorority community over a fraudulent Rolling Stone article to a lacrosse player murdering his lacrosse playing girlfriend?

    Where there’s smoke there is fire. And where there is the stench of sewage there are bags of dog s**t disguised as human beings. Time to take out the trash. Time to take the fertilizer out of the administrative buildings and pour it onto the fields where it might do some good.

    Dragas was right!

  7. methinks getting a college education these days is akin to buying a new car, eh?

    they’re going to get that “mandatory”… “processing fee” no matter what!

    and yes.. you’re going to pay for it – and many with a loan.

    Bacon defends the fly-by-night loan sharks that victimize the poor but the mans squeals like that oinker in Deliverance when it comes to the middle class getting similar treatment! Outrage! How dare these institutions charge such UNFAIR rates ..!

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