See that young black man in the photo above, gracing the cover of the University of Wisconsin admissions brochure? The one apparently cheering for the Badgers at a Wisconsin football game? His name is Diallo Shabazz, and as a student at the school in 2000 had never been to a game in his life when someone photoshopped his head into a crowd shot to let potential applicants know how diverse the University of Wisconsin was. This infamous incident, which Jon Stewart had a ball with in the day (is the Daily Show really that old?), is apparently more the norm that we thought at the time.
Tim Pippert is a sociologist at Augsburg College in Minnesota. He and his researchers looked at more than 10,000 images from college brochures to compare the racial composition of students in the pictures to the colleges’ actual demographics. They discovered that diversity, as depicted in the brochures, was over-represented. “When we looked at African-Americans in those schools that were predominantly white, the actual percentage in those campuses was only about 5 percent of the student body,” Pippert told NPR. “They were photographed at 14.5 percent.”
Jim Rawlins, admissions director at the University of Oregon and past president of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, told NPR that the misrepresentation can be justified as a legitimate way to improve student body diversity. No, Jim, it really can’t be. It can be rationalized that way, and the rationalization is “it’s for a good cause,” or The Saint’s Excuse. It is not fair or ethical to lie to students via manipulated photo-images that suggest a diverse campus in order to trick minority students into applying so that the school can admit a more diverse student body. This is called false advertising, and it is a bait and switch.
Student: Hey! I came here believing those photos in your brochure that this was a more diverse campus!
Administrator: See? And because you came, it IS a more diverse campus!
Not surprisingly, a school with this kind of warped ethics turns out graduates who think the ends justify the means too. Shabazz, the victim of the stolen head caper, seemed to be telling NPR that he believed colleges should represent their student population demographics to potential students aspirationally rather than accurately, saying,
“I think that universities have a responsibility to portray diversity on campus, and to portray the type of diversity that they would like to create. It shows what their value systems are. At the same time, I think they have a responsibility to be actively engaged in creating that diversity on campus that goes deeper than just what’s in the picture.”
Again, wrong. This is called misrepresentation, manipulation and lying “for a good cause.” You see, it’s not just the admissions departments. This is the warped version of ethics that many universities are teaching their students. It is a culture of deception for “the greater good.”
[I just deleted, as a cheap shot, my last sentence. Guess what it was.]
Pointer: TaxProf Blog
Facts and Graphic: NPR