Wright weighs in on admissions story

by Rachel Osterman | 5/25/01 5:00am

Speaking for the first time since allegations emerged about possibly unequal promotion practices in the Admissions Office, College President James Wright said he was concerned when he learned last year that nine admissions officers planned to leave their positions, but that he continues to have confidence in the office's leadership.

Wright also said that the names of people who receive promotions fall within the public sphere, a belief at odds with the statements made in the past week by other College officials.

"If you're talking about a position, when someone moves to a different level and title, I'm saying that normally that would be public information because someone would be listed differently on a masthead," Wright said in an interview last night.

Wright's comment casts doubt on the aura of confidentiality that has so far surrounded the allegations about the office, raising questions about why College officials have refused to disclose which minorities were in fact promoted in what was and continues to be one of Dartmouth's most diverse offices.

Between Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Karl Furstenberg's 1990 arrival at the College and the summer of 2000, only one person of color moved up a level in the Admissions Office hierarchy, The Dartmouth learned through a series of interviews with former admissions officers. During that time, at least five whites received similar promotions.

Furstenberg and others in the Admissions leadership have denied The Dartmouth's finding on four occasions, instead saying that half of the promotions in the Admissions Office were of people of color. But they declined to cite any individual names, arguing that such information is confidential " contradictory to what Wright indicated.

Director of Human Resources Christine Chevalier, whose job it is to set personnel policy, said in a written statement yesterday afternoon that promotions constitute confidential information.

Presented last night with Wright's comment, she said: "I'm agreeing that the information on people who received promotions is public."

But Chevalier said she would not release the names of such individuals. "I definitely have access to it, but I'm not in the habit of releasing any information without the department's approval."

Frustration over promotion and diversity concerns contributed to a mass exit from the Admissions Office in the 1999-2000 academic year, during which time nine out of 14 officers resigned. While four of those departures were for benign reasons, five of them were accompanied by disappointment with management practices, former admissions officers said.

Wright said that the series of departures helped highlight Dartmouth's need to continue to press for meaningful diversity.

"I think it's a matter of concern," he said. "We have to make sure there's an environment that offers people of color opportunities to advance. And I'm certainly committed to advancing that."

Wright said he learned about the mass exit last year, when he was informed by the Provost Office.

"I was troubled because I respect greatly some of the people who left and they contributed greatly to Dartmouth," Wright said.

When he became aware of the concerns over promotion opportunities for minorities in the office, Wright said he was told by other members of the administration that half of the promotions in the Admissions Office were of people of color. But, he said, he never learned who those individuals are, nor did he ask how promotions were being defined, he said.

Soon after Wright became aware of the departures, the Provost and Human Resources Offices launched an inquiry into the resignations that included exit interviews with the departing officers.

Wright said he is confident in the findings of those inquiries, which according to Chevalier concluded that no discrimination took place in the office.

"I'm quite satisfied with the results of those conversations," he said. "But if Christine [Chevalier] and [Director of Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action] Ozzie Harris thinks there's nothing amiss, two individuals who I trust immensely, then I believe that."

Some of those departing officers, who never filed affirmative action complaints because they said they thought the exit interview process would address their concerns, said they would reconsider filing such complaints if they had known what they describe as administrative inaction would result.

Wright said the he trusts the aims and quality of the leadership in the Admissions Office.

"I have tremendous regard for Dean Furstenberg and what he has contributed to this college," Wright said.

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