Selective transparency stains Snyder’s administration

As a private institution, Case Western Reserve University enjoys certain information freedoms not afforded to public universities. This reality became increasingly clear to the editorial board of The Observer this past week when the Office of University Marketing and Communications (UMC) and Office of Undergraduate Admissions refused to provide us with data regarding the Class of 2018 application pool.

Our request may seem strange, but there is a method to our madness. On Jan. 24, The Daily—the official university newsletter published by UMC—released a feature story detailing select statistics pertaining to the Class of 2018. The news article was subsequently posted to the university’s homepage with the headline “record breaking.”

What is so record breaking, you may wonder? So did we. In their highly visible post, UMC, which speaks for President Barbara R. Snyder’s administration, married “diversity” and “underrepresented minorities” in adjacent sentences. In fact, they claimed the latter increased by 21 percent among Class of 2017 and Class of 2018 applicants.

We would love to tell you how the university generated this statistic. But, we can’t. Snyder’s administration denied our request for data regarding the ethnic backgrounds of applicants between 2007 and 2014. According to university officials, this information would be too complicated for us to understand and would impact the university’s competitive advantage over other institutions.

Here is what we do know: Unlike US News & World Report—the prestigious college ranking service Case Western Reserve strives to impress—the university has a less refined definition of what it means to be diverse. When US News & World Report speaks of diversity, they specifically mean ethnic diversity, which they describe as “the total proportion of minority students—leaving out international students.”

But, Snyder’s administration prefers to paint their picture of diversity with broader strokes. “Diversity is very broadly defined,” Rick Bischoff, vice president for enrollment management, said. “We think about geography, ethnicity, country of citizenship, socioeconomic status, religion, academic interest, extracurricular contributions, etc. Many of these aren’t reported on, but are important factors in building a class.”

The university’s definition of “underrepresented minorities” is equally vague. According to Case Western Reserve’s 2012-2015 Diversity Strategic Action Plan, “underrepresented minorities may vary by discipline” and readers should “refer to discipline specific accrediting bodies for guidance.”

So, what underrepresented minorities comprised the 21 percent increase touted on the university’s homepage? And, how exactly did diversity among undergraduate applicants increase? Snyder’s administration doesn’t want us or you to know.

Unfortunately, this kind of selective transparency is becoming all too common at Case Western Reserve. After all, this is the same place where the provost will host an open forum on tuition, but only during the spring semester and only after students’ tuition bills were due. This is the same place where all are invited to comment on the university’s Interim Sexual Misconduct Policy, but have merely a week to submit their feedback. This is the same place where the windows may be half cracked, but the blinds remain fully shut.

Update Feb. 13, 2014: The Observer received a letter to the editor from University Marketing and Communications, which can be found online. Readers may also find The Observer‘s response here. —Kyle Patterson, Director of Web & Multimedia