Time to Clean House at Claremont McKenna College

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March 21, 2012 at 9:48 am  •  Posted in Education by  •  4 Comments

I graduated in 1990 with a BA from Claremont McKenna College, known to those at the Claremont Colleges as CMC. Yes, that’s the college that was recently caught cheating.  CMC reported inflated SAT scores to US News & World Report and other publications who were ranking and profiling liberal arts colleges.

I guess I’m far enough along in life that it won’t really hurt me in any meaningful way but it’s not fun to have your undergraduate degree tarnished. Sort of like having Enron on your resume.

I  read the article in the New York Times and felt very disappointed.  I also received an email from Pamela Gann, the current President of CMC.  It was thoughtful and contrite and made me think the right things were happening.  At the end of her email she stated: “While I am sorry to report this to you, I remain deeply committed to ensuring that Claremont McKenna will respond to this matter in a manner that is accurate, honest, and that will reflect the longstanding integrity of our great college.”

In the NY Times piece it was announced that Richard C. Vos the Dean of Admissions had taken sole responsibility and resigned….so apparently no one else was involved or did anything wrong.  Really?  One scapegoat after 6 years of cheating?  How would Wall Street react if a publicly traded company misrepresented earnings for 6 years and then fired only the CFO and hoped that investors would see this as a sufficient response.

Normally I don’t get too excited about something like this.  I wasn’t a great student at CMC and I don’t give much money to the college.  I haven’t attended a CMC reunion and I tend to identify more with the University of Oregon, where I went to graduate school.  But what has started to really annoy me is the dramatic uptick in overly sunny emails from CMC. They started (or maybe accelerated) the “I am CMC” campaign to remind everyone what wonderful students are currently enrolled and how accomplished our alumni have been.  I get the sense that the administration is hoping the issue will just dissipate under all the sunshine and rainbows.  What I haven’t seen is any sense of humility nor any follow through to counter my perception that Dean Vos was not the only one who was involved in falsely reporting SAT statistics for 6 years.

Where are the Board of Trustees on this?  Shouldn’t they be taking a hard look at President Gann’s role?  If she didn’t know about the cheating shouldn’t she bear responsibility for not having put the appropriate controls in place to prevent this remarkable breach of ethics?  The only positive I’ve seen is that students don’t seem to be buying in – this piece from the Claremont Port Side is a good example.

If the Board of Trustees called me (don’t worry, they won’t) here’s what I would suggest as an appropriate response to safeguard the reputation and future of CMC.

1. Suspend President Gann and any other senior administration who may have been in position to prevent the cheating.

2. Appoint a spokesperson for the Board of Trustees who will oversee a completely thorough and transparent investigation where findings are released publicly, and preferably on a regular basis.

3. Appoint an independent firm to audit all past institutional research reports to be absolutely certain of the integrity of all information that has been distributed in recent years.  Any errors in CMC’s reporting, trivial or otherwise, should be disclosed and corrected swiftly and publicly.

4. After concluding the investigation determine who should lead CMC going forward.  Frankly, I think it would be in the best interest of CMC for Pamela Gann to step aside.  Even if she was not involved in the scandal the perception of impropriety will continue to tarnish the college as long as she remains in place.  If she stays on board I want to know why that is the best decision for CMC directly from the Board of Trustees.

If nothing else is done, please stop the silly “I am CMC” campaign.  The timing of the campaign is awful and the lack of humility is making me sick to my stomach.

I am CMC too and I want the college to clean house.

4 Comments

  1. Rich / March 24, 2012 at 10:51 am / Reply

    Bravo. I share your clarity that too little has been done in the area of resposibility and accountability in this issue. Moreover, I think the best move that CMC could have
    made when this scandel went public was for the board to remove both the vice president of admission and the president. This would have sent a clear signal to the CMC community and the higher education community at large that the ultimate “buck” stops at the top level of leadership and that this type of behavior cannot and will not be tolerated. Look at what the NFL has recently done to punish the head coach of the New Orleans Saints – while perhaps not directly involved in the “bounty” scandal, it occurred under Sean Payton’s watch and he is ultimately responsible in the same way Pam Gann must be held accountable for this blemish on the college’s reputation. Chairman McMahon
    should take bold action if not that it is the right thing to do, but for the sake of salvaging CMC’s future.

    • justinholman / March 24, 2012 at 10:57 am / Reply

      Thanks for the comment, Rich! What can we do to get Chairman McMahon’s attention?

  2. Andrew / March 29, 2012 at 1:51 am / Reply

    This has received press in all sorts of places. Between the NY Times, USA Today, and many other publications, it’s a disaster larger than the prof who faked hate crimes on her vehicle (wasn’t that one bizarre?)

    The ugliest thing is reading some of the quotes by current CMCers, like the senior who said hooray for his school having the integrity to be the first to come out and admit this. As if somehow admitting the crime makes you more ethical than those who never perpetrated fraud in the first place. This looks vile in the face of CMC’s Statement of Academic Integrity, which says “Other examples of academic dishonesty include … supplying false or forged documents to a college official.”

    The echoes will keep going — any time any other college cheats, CMC’s name will be brought up, because the school’s response will be seen as blase. It’s a sad time for CMC.

    • Justin / March 29, 2012 at 8:46 am / Reply

      Andrew, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Sadly, I agree. CMC is a great place but unless it shines in the way it addresses this problem it will be known as a cheater school for some time.

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