I have resolutely stayed out of the government-is-too-big-for-its-britches debate that is raging during the hot stove run-up to the 2012 election. Public higher education is so overly administered that there is nothing really new to add to this conversation. But a recent ruling by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) concerning the University of Utah’s admissions policies has changed my mind.
From The Salt Lake Times on-line edition:
The University of Utah is revising its admissions policy for some older students in the wake of a civil-rights complaint filed by a learning-disabled applicant who was denied admission because he read and wrote at only a fourth-grade level.
You read that right. That is, if you read at a level above the fourth grade. The OCR found in favor of an applicant to UU whose reading and writing skills had not reached the middle-school level. The Times story continues:
the OCR last year required the U. to revise its admissions policies to “reflect legitimate criteria for student qualifications that do not discriminate on the basis of disability.” The agreement also requires the U. to train its personnel in the policies and submit those training materials for OCR approval.
The university complied by spelling out the courses completed and GPA earned an applicant must achieve in order to gain admission. And by admitting an individual it had determined could not meet the demands of a post-secondary curriculum. The applicant, it turns out, did not enroll. He didn’t even sue, although the OCR said he could. What he lacked in reading and writing ability he made up for in common sense. Forget college–the OCR should hire him.
What larger purpose was served here? How was an individual’s rights or the public’s interest protected by forcing the University of Utah to state the obvious: you cannot succeed in college if you do not possess a modicum of literacy.
The consequences, though, are easy to see: 1) more work for school-bus chasing lawyers; 2) more paper for university administrators to push; 3) more employment opportunities at the OCR, where somebody–presumably with a better-than-fourth-grade reading level–is going to pore over those “training materials.”
Higher education is not a “right.” It is an opportunity. One to be cherished, honored even. And the best way to do that is by providing open access to it for men and women whose intellectual capacities can sustain reading and understanding polysyllabic words, compound-complex sentences, and dense paragraphs. In other words, the average collegiate text on the benefits of diversity.