For the first time since 2018, the faculty viewed up-to-date data about athletic recruiting and its effect on admissions. Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Matt McGann presented the information to the faculty at its Oct. 17 meeting, a step prompted by last month’s vote to release the data and hold a discussion.
Although students were not allowed to participate in the discussion, and the presentation and the details of the data remain confidential, those present said that the conversation was productive.
According to Professor of Economics Jessica Reyes, who brought forth last month’s vote, the presentation showed the same patterns of inequity that existed in the past as well as some improvement in athletics admissions processes.
The faculty meeting began with remarks from President Michael Elliott, who stressed the importance of athletics to the college. “To step away from competitive athletics entirely would be a major shift of institutional identity on par with stepping away from our investment in the humanities,” he said.
He also argued that the place where the college has made the most progress in the last seven years with regards to student diversity is in diversifying the athlete population. He nevertheless acknowledged that the system still stands to improve.
He expressed the importance of placing these conversations in the context of last summer’s Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action, stressing that there was no way to know yet what changes to either the general or athletic student body will result from the ruling and that it was essential to avoid drastic policy changes before sufficient data could be collected.
Elliott also emphasized the necessity of acting alongside peer institutions.
“Equally important is that athletics recruiting takes place within an ecosystem that includes both Division III and our athletics conference, NESCAC,” he said. “The NESCAC presidents are actively considering how to reform the recruiting system … so that it better serves our institutions in light of the Supreme Court decision.”
McGann’s presentation itself, Reyes said, included a few new and important pieces of data. “First,” she explained, “we still see the same patterns of inequity that were present 5-10 years ago.” However, she continued, echoing Elliott’s earlier remarks, that “it does seem like the efforts on the part of admissions and athletics to diversify and innovate in their processes have produced some improvement.”
Nevertheless, Reyes contends that this progress does not represent a move towards a truly equitable system by the college, because all the gains have been relative to a state of unacceptable homogeneity.
In a 2016 report on athletics at Amherst, Reyes said, it was reported that “athletes were close to three-fourths white.” If, since then, the college has become so much more diverse, it is only because athlete diversity has been moving in the direction of the level of diversity that has long been present in the general student population — though they are still not comparable.
These interpretations of Tuesday’s meeting led Reyes to the conclusion that coalescing athletic and general student admissions into a single process was imperative. “I do not believe Amherst’s values are consistent with having two admissions processes that are separate and unequal, one that is the official one we acknowledge and another one that is somewhat secret (though it is explained in reports) that serves to amplify existing privilege,” she said.
McGann said that he was glad to help inform the faculty about the state of athletic admissions. The discussion itself was “of the kind that we have come to expect at Amherst: thoughtful, with people who care about the institution deeply and who want to do what’s right for the institution,” he said.
Reyes said that “it was definitely valuable — in my opinion — for us to spend the time together trying to make sense of these processes and their outcomes.” She added, “faculty discussion and engagement is meaningful, and crucial in an institution that centers faculty governance as a key way of realizing its mission.”
Correction, Oct. 25, 2023: A previous version of this article misrepresented Professor Reyes’ statement about the degree to which athletic admissions processes have improved, as well has a detail about the current level of diversity in athletic admits.
Correction, Oct. 26, 2023: A previous version of this article stated that non-faculty were not allowed to attend the discussion at the Oct. 17 faculty meeting. This is not true; it was students who were not allowed to attend.