Jacob Garber: A disturbing pattern of false advertising

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo

Were any of you surprised?

When I read that the University had been misrepresenting its “need-blind” policy for years, I surely wasn’t. It was the same kind of hat-in-hand story we’ve heard before: GW had, in fact, been taking into account financial need when looking at the bottom 10 percent of its qualified applicants.

This was a blatant case of false advertising. But all I could do was sigh and shake my head as though my dog had just pissed on the carpet again.

The University and its inability to tell the truth doesn’t surprise me anymore. It shouldn’t lie to students, but time after time, it does.

It wasn’t just one person. Kathryn Napper, the former admissions dean, insisted that GW was need-blind for years. And everyone from top administrators too admissions officers stood by her, repeating the “need-blind” lie at information sessions and maintaining that information on the admissions website.

It’s disappointing. But we should come to expect it. After manipulating its U.S. News & World Report ranking data last year. After University President Knapp told students a housing mandate had no financial motivation. After four deans were either fired or left abruptly over the past two years.

Clearly, there are huge communication and accountability issues within the administration. There’s an overall lack of transparency among those who make decisions at this nearly $2 billion-a-year institution.

We don’t expect administrators to be perfect, but we expect them to be the kind of people who tell students, faculty and alumni the truth. Those are the stakeholders. The ones who fall in love with GW and apply. The ones who spend careers here.

At the very least, it’s reassuring to see honesty from Laurie Koehler, the University’s newly hired associate provost for enrollment management, who is in the process of reshaping GW’s admissions policies. She was the one who confirmed last week that financial need has been and will be a determining factor at the end of the admissions process.

But it’s unbelievable that the University didn’t think that calling GW “need-blind” was “intentionally misleading,” as spokeswoman Candace Smith told The Hatchet. The University is saying that it didn’t steal the cookies, and all the while its mouth is covered in crumbs.

Those kind of statements make the lying worse. When you look at the actual issue – why GW needs to be need-aware – it starts to make sense. People will understand. So why lie?

GW’s endowment of $1.3 billion hardly rivals those of need-blind colleges Northwestern and New York universities, with endowments that stand at about $7 and $3 billion respectively.

Administrators are searching for ways to bring in as much money as they can, and being need-aware is an obvious way to increase tuition revenue. But administrators shouldn’t be lying about our admissions policies.

If the administration is going to assign more importance to its financial bottom line than its repeated commitments to creating the most socioeconomically diverse and intellectually elite class of students, then they should own up to it.

I am not surprised that the University lied to me once again. But I am surprised that it is lying just to fill its pockets. That false advertising hurts us all.

The writer, a senior majoring in English and creative writing, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.

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