COMMENTARY: Tuesday’s editorial in bad taste

Anne Heintzman

In the 1/31/12 edition of the Herald, the editorial staff complained of WKU’s “safety school reputation” and included a cartoon of a monkey with a 0.5 GPA. The unfortunate combination results in insensitive and potentially racially-charged rhetoric. Newspapers, even college ones, should have learned their lesson during the 2009 political storm over a simian image of President Obama and, again, in 2011, when a political leader stepped down because of a similar image.

Perhaps this editorial staff does not realize they seem to be viewing admission policies as actual measures of human potential. They should have stood beside me and watched as my students read their editorial — the editorial that told them they should not BE here.   

Inclusive admission standards are critically important in keeping the doors to higher education open. Standardized test scores and GPAs are inaccurate predictors of success, with startling and disturbing gaps in scores between races, ethnicities and income levels. The single-most influential “philosophical error, with the most fundamental and far-ranging social impact,” is the mistaken idea “that intelligence can be meaningfully abstracted as a single number…” (Gould, The Mismeasure of Man). Regardless of admission scores, the most significant factor is motivation.  There is no test for that.  

High scores are often a result of opportunity. In his book “Outliers,” Gladwell notes that “It is those who are successful … who are most likely to be given the kinds of special opportunities that lead to further success. … It’s the best students who get the best teaching and most attention. … Success is the result of what sociologists like to call ‘accumulative advantage.’” WKU’s admission policy offers opportunity, to as manya as possible, that can lead to success. According to the editorial board’s own facts, many WKU students excel and win national honors. WKU’s policies are working.  

Berea College, a private Kentucky college, is now nationally ranked as the #1 liberal arts college by Washington Monthly in part because of its performance in accepting, educating and graduating high risk students. I have spoken with several WKU students who were accepted at Berea College. Can WKU do as much for these students as Berea? With all its resources, WKU should be able to do as well or better. Closing the doors more firmly is taking a wrong turn on the path to national recognition for quality education.   

Those students seeking an institution that values restricted admission will have little difficulty finding one. They are hard to get into, and they are far from Kentucky. WKU serves Kentucky with highly ranked departments and professors so that graduates of WKU can go wherever they wish from here. Be proud that you are from a school that welcomes rather than restricts, for “If the misery of our poor [scores] be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin.”  Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle. 

Anne Heintzman

Dept. of Academic Support WKU