Admin. silent on problems

by Rachel Osterman | 5/22/01 5:00am

Throughout the academic year, as the Provost Office was overseeing an inquiry into the Admission Office's unusually large staff exit, College President James Wright learned about the complaints that many of those departing admissions officers seemed to have.

"I did inform [Wright] that I had some concerns from knowing that a number of people were leaving. And so he was aware that I was going to try to understand what was producing that," said College Provost Susan Prager, who led the inquiry process. "But this area does report to the provost."

Wright's response when he learned The Dartmouth was investigating the cause of the nine departures that took place throughout 2000, was public silence. He declined to comment again after an article in Thursday's edition reported that in a 10-year period, only one person of color was promoted in an office so diverse that minorities often made up more than half of the officers.

Wright's lack of response has closely paralleled the reaction of other high level administrators. Throughout the last several days, there has been little public reaction and, it seems, little formal conversation about the findings among administrators themselves.

"I've just been consumed by things that were already on my schedule," Prager said.

One exception came during the Alumni Council meeting this weekend, when Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Karl Furstenberg addressed the body about the incoming freshman class and about his thoughts on the The Dartmouth's investigation.

"It seemed to me that people at the Alumni Council had seen the article," Furstenberg said. "I said that I regretted the article and that I didn't think it was fair to the great people who worked in the office both this past year and the year before.

"I did say I thought the record on this is fair. That the commitment to diversity for me is a very deep one, and that it shows up both in the student recruitment process and in its staff," Furstenberg added.

People who were present at the meeting said Furstenberg appeared noticeably disconcerted.

Prager said there were "no developments" since Thursday related to the admissions article. Nor, she said, have there been any meetings between relevant administrators of which she is aware. Furstenberg and others in the Admissions Office reiterated that observation.

The Dartmouth discovered from interviews with current and former members of the administration that between Furstenberg's 1990 arrival at Dartmouth and the summer of 2000, only one person of color moved up the Admissions Office hierarchy. During that time, at least five whites were promoted.

Furstenberg said that figure is inaccurate, but declined to cite any specific examples to the contrary.

Frustration among staff about diversity concerns prompted about five of the nine resignations, alarming Prager, who responded by launching an inquiry that included exit interviews with many of the departing officers. Prager later called the mass exit "a failure of the institution."

In her inquiry, Prager identified the need for enhanced communication between admissions management and employees as well as the elevation of the director of minority recruitment position from the lowest to one of the most senior levels in the office, which did occur.

Furstenberg said that the changes instituted in the year since the nine departures are all part of the normal ebb and flow of admissions work.

"We are constantly making adjustments," he said. "Every year we make adjustments, and we learn of things that happen from the year before. And a lot of that comes from the staff."

Others in the office echoed that sentiment and defended the management practices in Dartmouth's admissions.

"I worked here for seven years and there weren't any problems that I was aware of. People who worked hard and deserved promotions were promoted. Karl [Furstenberg] was a fair boss," said Associate Director of Admissions Ellen Parish, who was a Dartmouth admissions officer between 1992 and 1998, and returned at the start of this academic year.

Other admissions officers agreed.

"This is my first year in the office," said Assistant Director of Admissions Joie Jager-Hyman. "Everything I have observed has been very proactive and supportive of diversity."