It’s the System, Stupid.

The elephant in the room

Andrew Breland

As a freshman, when I lived in campus housing, I would regularly leave the TV on at night while I tried to fall asleep. Aside from the decreased quality of sleep this caused, I am sad to say that a common show on the screen was a rerun of Fox’s “Family Guy.” The laughter can commence now.

One common episode, “common” only based on my limited sample, was one from 2006 called “Stewie B. Goode.” There’s a scene in that episode in which Peter Griffin, the show’s protagonist, rants in news segments about “What Really Grinds My Gears.” Now in true Seth MacFarlane-style, the rants were about largely nonsensical non-issues. However, the sentiment is real; some things really do just drive us crazy.

The point of that elaboration, and the four-year-old anecdote that accompanies it, is because of a return of a certain activity to our campus. Something that, perhaps, really grinds my gears. This week we saw the return of an event that serves as the one of the largest laughingstocks for some current students and one of the worst inconveniences for others. The admissions season has returned.

Last week, the Office of Undergraduate Admission hosted their first Admissions Open House, herding nearly 800 prospective students and their families onto campus and into the new, aesthetically nauseating Tinkham Veale Center. On its face, it seems that an admissions open house is simply a byproduct of attending college. In the end, colleges do have to recruit new students. Hosting them for a day is an easy way to do that.

But there are better and worse ways to do that. Prospective students and admissions activities do not have to be a burden to the campus community, but instead could be an asset. However, our admissions office has demonstrated an ineptitude at managing that status. Instead, we herd “prospies” around in groups of 30-80, depending on the group, invading spaces that are inappropriate, all while screaming platitudes at the interested students, hardly giving any semblance of a true image of the university.

On Monday, I followed around a tour group during the Open House at a large enough distance where it was not noticeable, but close enough to hear what was being said. Nothing said on the tour could have been painted in a more positive light, which multiple parents and students vocally complained about. People are not dumb. They understand that the school has problems. What these parents wanted, and what my own family appreciated during my college search, was a more truthful explanation of the school, complete with complaints. Telling them that gives them an informed decision. Without it, you risk one of two outcomes: unhappy parents and students during the open house or students who decide to apply to CWRU, get admitted, enroll and are then saddened to know they were betrayed in the admissions process.

Specifically there were a few comments that really stuck out in a tour that was otherwise replete with objectionable material. While walking through the university center: “You can use your meal plan everywhere. Naan has awesome food.” While this statement is technically true (CaseCash is part of the meal plan), anyone who has actually experienced this knows it is false. Later on the tour, on the quad: “There are tons of meal options for in-between class.” Again, not false, but severely objectionable because there is one eaterie that accepts meal swipes on the quad. Otherwise you are limited to $7 bagel sandwiches and mediocre $8 pizza, if you’re willing to walk.

But there was another, not food-based, comment that really stuck out. Someone asked, “What have been your biggest complaints about Case?” The tour guide, a naive, probably-sophomore engineer, answered verbatim: “I haven’t had any. I’ve really loved my experience here.” That was it. Apparently her college experience is better than any of the other 21 million students enrolled in college in the US. It is unbelievable that a college student has no complaints. Claiming that, the student has alienated her tour group and led others to disbelieve everything she has spent her hour saying.

This is not necessarily her fault. It is the responsibility of the admissions staff to ensure that families are getting a realistic treatment during their visit here. But even that expects too much of admissions. To have the tour guides describe CWRU accurately, it would take a commitment to giving prospective students the information they need to make an informed college choice for them. That is not admissions’ goal.

It comes down to a difference in ideology. Students coming to visit are asking the question, “Why is Case Western Reserve University right for me?” The Admissions staff asks, “Why are you right for CWRU?” Making the university the actor in this relationship risks making admitted students a number. Admissions staff do a nice bait-and-switch where they package the positive attributes of the university as a business. They are attracted to students who make them look good, when they should be attracted to the students the university can help. As a former tour guide myself, it was always stressed that we should talk about the good at CWRU and diminish the bad. It was our job to explain how students could fit into the machine that was CWRU, not how our machine helped them in their lives. With applications still rising in number, it is important that Admissions is selecting the right students to get here, not simply the ones that checked the right boxes.

Senior Andrew Breland is one of The Observer’s weekly opinion columnists. Contact him at