Knapp and top officials to take student questions on unranking, errors

University President Steven Knapp and three top administrators will take questions from students about GW’s unranking at a town hall Monday.

The Student Association event will mark the first time administrators will publicly address students since GW disclosed nearly two weeks ago that it had been inflating freshman admissions statistics for more than a decade. U.S. News & World Report kicked the University out of its 2013 top colleges rankings Wednesday.

The boot from the rankings stirred controversy among students, parents, alumni and faculty. GW’s media relations team has filtered communications throughout what has turned into a public relations disaster.

But even for the panel, SA Executive Vice President Abby Bergren was asked to send questions to Knapp in advance so he could prepare responses. Bergren said most of her questions revolved around how the misreporting occurred, and said students will still be able to ask other questions during the town hall.

Vice President for External Relations Lorraine Voles and dean of students Peter Konwerski will also answer questions at the event. They will join Senior Associate Provost for Academic Affairs and Planning Forrest Maltzman, who GW has designated as the chief spokesman on the issue since the University came clean on the data inaccuracies Nov. 8. Maltzman began overseeing the admissions office this summer, when the statistical error was found during an internal review, and has tried to calm the aftermath with a question-and-answer interview published in the University’s newsletter, GW Today.

The panel excludes Associate Vice President and Dean of Admissions Kathryn Napper, who has declined to comment on the misreported data for the last two weeks. She has overseen the admissions office for 15 years.

“It’s all being handled upstairs with external relations. Take it up with them,” Napper said Wednesday, after GW was unranked.

Administrators have also repeatedly declined to release the audit the external firm Baker Tilly completed on admissions data. The firm’s report did not find the origin of the error, though administrators have repeatedly claimed it was done “without malice.”

The Office of Admissions had calculated that 78 percent of the Class of 2015 came from the top 10 percent of their high school class. But that percentage was skewed because GW estimated that students who earned top grade point averages and standardized test scores fell into that category as well – even if their school didn’t provide a rank. The figure was actually 58 percent – 20 percentage points lower.

And those 20 percentage points would have bumped GW down from its No. 51 slot in the U.S. News rankings, prompting the magazine to remove the University from its rankings rather than redo calculations.

Hours after the news reverberated on Twitter and Facebook feeds, SA senators began planning an emergency meeting for students to demand answers from administrators about the miscalculations and unranking.

Bergren said she believes that the admissions office’s inflation of data was unintentional, but wants the forum to provide “closure for the situation.”

“One of the reasons students were really upset about the situation was because they felt uninformed. It was a bit confusing,” Bergren said. “If you took a look on social media following the announcement from U.S. News, it was very, very clear students needed more information.”

U.S. News’ Director of Data Research Robert Morse initially said the University would drop just a few slots, if any, due to the misreported data.

Bergren added she hopes the students will get their questions answered, but also that students “can put it to rest and move forward” after the event.

Knapp will start the event with a brief speech, and then students will be able to direct questions to the administrators. Knapp committeed to attending the event, but he may have to leave early due to a prior commitment.

The forum will be held Monday in the Marvin Center at 6:30 p.m. Bergren added that the SA wants to live stream the event online for students who will have already left campus for Thanksgiving break.

Sen. Hugo Scheckter, Undergraduate-At-Large, and Sen. Ryan Counihan, a junior in the School of Business, planned the forum and will attend through an Internet call because both had already booked flights home for Thanksgiving break.

Counihan said there are still a lot of “unanswered questions” students have for administrators. He said the senators’ questions would be “constructive” and figure out how the data errors happened.

“There’s really no way to tell it was intentional. We will learn more [Monday] night and see what they have to say,” Counihan said.

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