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  • Writer's pictureJose Arrieta

Admission Officers the Gatekeepers of Science

The admission departments of prestigious universities have been the center of legal scrutiny. The US Supreme Court ruling has required these departments to adapt the people they admit to their universities. This is an important change scientists should study.


The admission officers of just eight universities are responsible for choosing over a fifth of all faculty hired between 2011 and 2020 (2). This is a tremendous amount of power over the future of science. Admission officers are making discretionary choices among candidates over whom they are objectively indifferent. Choosing at random would be a fairer heuristic (3). However, as practitioners of science, we could be more strategic and create new objective and scientifically validated measures to gauge the quality of our future colleagues (4).


In the wake of the Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College ruling, admission officers will need to find new ways to select students (1). This is a valuable opportunity to see how they adapt their practices. As Harvard explained during the court proceedings, admission officers are faced with immense discretionary power. They receive thousands of applications for a few dozen open positions, and the short-listed candidates are all broadly equivalent under any objective measure. This is why Harvard used affirmative action to foster a diverse student body.


Graduate education is filled with horror stories of narcissism, sexism, and racism. There are objective measures for gauging these traits (5–7). Why not endorse these measures and add them as required conditions for accepted candidates? Of course, there is a risk that candidates will "fake it until they make it." But this is objectively a more actionable future than leaving the future of science to a group of people who are obliged to choose objectively and lack measures to distinguish among their top candidates.


The first step towards change is assessing the state of things. In this situation, it means doing an ethnography at the admission offices of top universities and understanding in detail how they accept students and the rationale and reasons they use to create said procedures. Learning in detail how these officers wield their power will enable positing new tools to scout the future of science.



References

1. Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College (US Sup. Ct. 20-1199). https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/22pdf/20-1199_hgdj.pdf

2. Wapman, K. H., Zhang, S., Clauset, A., & Larremore, D. B. (2022). Quantifying hierarchy and dynamics in US faculty hiring and retention. Nature, 610(7930), 120-127.

3. Berger, J., Osterloh, M., Rost, K., & Ehrmann, T. (2020). How to prevent leadership hubris? Comparing competitive selections, lotteries, and their combination. The Leadership Quarterly, 31(5), 101388.

4. Arrieta, J. P., & Shrestha, Y. R. (2022). On the strategic value of equifinal choice. Journal of Organization Design, 11(2), 37-45.

5. Foster, J. D., McCain, J. L., Hibberts, M. F., Brunell, A. B., & Johnson, R. B. (2015). The Grandiose Narcissism Scale: A global and facet-level measure of grandiose narcissism. Personality and individual differences, 73, 12-16.

6. Swim, J. K., & Cohen, L. L. (1997). Overt, covert, and subtle sexism: A comparison between the attitudes toward women and modern sexism scales. Psychology of women quarterly, 21(1), 103-118.

7. Keum, B. T., & Miller, M. J. (2017). Racism in digital era: Development and initial validation of the Perceived Online Racism Scale (PORS v1. 0). Journal of Counseling Psychology, 64(3), 310.

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