Har­vard stu­dents ousted over of­fen­sive posts

South Florida Times - - FRONT PAGE - By SALLY HO

LAS VE­GAS - Few col­lege­bound kids lose their shot, and their slot, at their dream school once they get in, but it hap­pened at one of the world's most elite in­sti­tu­tions and for a rea­son that has, un­til re­cently, hardly reg­is­tered in the univer­sity ad­mis­sions process: so­cial me­dia.

Har­vard Univer­sity's de­ci­sion to re­scind ad­mis­sion of­fers to 10 in­com­ing fresh­men be­cause of of­fen­sive Face­book posts comes at a time of height­ened at­ten­tion to free speech and stu­dent con­duct on U.S. col­lege cam­puses, and has stirred de­bate far beyond the halls of the Ivy League school.

Other schools say it's an eye-opener for those in­volved in the ad­mis­sions process.

“We're go­ing to con­tinue to watch how this un­folds and, with other higher ed in­sti­tu­tions, learn from it,” said Janet Bonkowski, spokes­woman for the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin in Green Bay.

Har­vard re­scinded the ad­mis­sion of­fers af­ter dis­cov­er­ing the stu­dents had traded of­fen­sive images and mes­sages on a pri­vate Face­book group, stu­dent news­pa­per The Har­vard Crim­son re­ported. The posts were of­ten sex­u­ally ex­plicit and mocked Mex­i­cans, the Holo­caust, sex­ual as­sault and child abuse.

The Cambridge, Mas­sachusetts, univer­sity de­clined to com­ment, but the school does tell ac­cepted stu­dents their of­fers can be with­drawn if their be­hav­ior “brings into ques­tion their hon­esty, ma­tu­rity or moral char­ac­ter.”

Its de­ci­sion may have been rare, but the sit­u­a­tion it ad­dressed was not: young ap­pli­cants cross­ing lines in their so­cial me­dia posts.

Mike Reilly, a for­mer col­lege ad­mis­sions of­fi­cer in Washington state and now an ex­ec­u­tive with the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of Col­le­giate Regis­trars and Ad­mis­sions Of­fi­cers, said Har­vard's move can be seen as in­con­gru­ent with free speech.

But Nancy Beane, a high school coun­selor in At­lanta and pres­i­dent of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for Col­lege Ad­mis­sion Coun­sel­ing, said zero tol­er­ance for racist com­ments should be the standard for all in­sti­tu­tions of higher ed­u­ca­tion.

“We're all hu­mans. We're all go­ing to make mis­takes and make poor choices in our lives, but there are con­se­quences,” Beane said. “I'm not sure why we've de­cided peo­ple can say what­ever they want, do what­ever they want, and there are no con­se­quences for it.”

In 2015, the na­tional coun­selors as­so­ci­a­tion sur­veyed its mem­bers at more than 1,700 col­leges and found less than a third re­ported re­scind­ing an ad­mis­sions of­fer each year. Nearly 70 per­cent of those col­leges said it was be­cause of a dis­hon­est ap­pli­ca­tion, while 20 per­cent said it was over a dis­ci­plinary is­sue. So­cial me­dia be­hav­ior wasn't con­sid­ered a rea­son to drop a stu­dent.

David Cruz, 22, who is study­ing hospi­tal­ity man­age­ment at the Univer­sity of Ne­vada in Las Ve­gas, said Har­vard did the right thing. The transf er stu­dent pointed to col­leges across the coun­try that have been crit­i­cized for not do­ing enough when it comes to trou­ble­some stu­dent con­duct, from re­ported sex as­saults to racist in­ci­dents.

“Their stu­dents acted on their own, but that also rep­re­sents the school,” Cruz said. ``What­ever you post, ev­ery­one can see it, whether you're try­ing to hide it or not.''

Some ad­mis­sions of­fi­cers can and do use Face­book, Twit­ter and other so­cial me­dia sites when as­sess­ing ap­pli­cants, though they gen­er­ally don't pa­trol the in­ter net for dam­ag­ing in­for­ma­tion. In­stead, they con­sider on­line posts when some­thing spe­cific is brought to their at­ten­tion.

Still, so­cial me­dia con­tent be­ing used to oust a stu­dent is un­com­mon. The Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin, for in­stance, doesn't check ap­pli­cants' so­cial me­dia ac­counts and doesn't have plans to start.

In gen­eral, drop­ping an ad­mit­ted stu­dent is a last-re­sort move, re­served for the most egre­gious cases. Even then, the col­lege usu­ally will at­tempt to keep the stu­dent by con­fronting them with the hope that an ex­pla­na­tion and a slap on the wrist will re­solve the is­sue.

Har­vey Mudd Col­lege in Cal­i­for­nia has never re­scinded an of­fer be­cause of a so­cial me­dia pro­file, said Peter Os­good, its ad­mis­sions di­rec­tor. But he re­calls one in­stance where school of­fi­cials dis­cussed an ob­jec­tion­able post with an ad­mit­ted ap­pli­cant.

“This mat­ter was dealt with pri­vately and dis­cretely, and that stu­dent be­came a won­der­ful ci­ti­zen for the col­lege, even a much val­ued tour guide,” Os­good said.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF HARVARDSMHL.ORG

Har­vard Univer­sity

COUR­TESY OF JUS­TICE IN­TEGRITY PRO­JECT

Janet Bonkowski

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