January 30, 2009

Art failure

For 98 percent of students, readmission simply is a matter of paperwork, but as Kong’s case demonstrates, the process is nonetheless flawed.

Students who take leaves of absence often do so having never before experienced life outside of school. But the scary, unfamiliar world into which students enter has at least one bright spot: They know they can always return to the U of C.

At least this is what the University might have you believe. The limited information published on the College website and in the course catalog, along with the insubstantial paperwork required for readmission, offers no indication that the process is anything more than a formality. To return, students are only required to fill out a two-page form that asks a series of brief, direct questions, such as,

“[H]ave you received psychiatric care since leaving the College?”

The system seems aimed at only weeding out students obviously unprepared to return. But this wasn’t the case for Junwan Kong, a Korean student who was a first-year in 2003 but was forced to leave after just one quarter due to financial difficulties. After taking liberal arts classes in his home country and working for several years to raise the money to return to the U of C, Kong was denied reentry by a committee led by Dean of Students Susan Art.

The disparity between the College’s written policies and its actual procedures pales in comparison to Art’s outrageous reasoning for why Kong should not be readmitted. “We cannot tell from what you have sent us why—apart from wanting a degree from a prestigious university—you really should return to Chicago,” she wrote in her e-mail to Kong denying his return.

In fact, wanting a degree from a prestigious university is the reason many students come to the U of C. This is one of the greatest universities in the world—a fact endlessly promoted by the University, which pours money into marketing itself as such to high school students. Kong, for his part, demonstrated a fondness for the U of C that extended beyond simply the U.S. News and World Report rankings, listing the Core and his desire to be a writer among his reasons for returning.

Art’s feeble reasoning did not end there. “I really cannot see how investing over $150,000 to complete your undergraduate education can make any sense at all,” she continued. Yet this is exactly what thousands of undergraduates already do, oftentimes at great financial strain to their families and futures. If the University advertises its admissions process as need-blind, why should its policy for readmission be any different? If Kong and his family can pay the bursar on time, Dean Art should not presume to decide their financial priorities.

For 98 percent of students, readmission simply is a matter of paperwork, but as Kong’s case demonstrates, the process is nonetheless flawed. Those about whom the Deans Committee express concern should at the very least be given the opportunity to address the group in a meaningful way before a decision is made. But in this case, as Art’s insufficient and arbitrary explanation makes clear, concern was not valid. Dean Art should reverse her decision and allow Junwan Kong to return.