Mocking Angry Parents

Northwestern admissions leader created fake fields on internal database to classify those upset about some rejections. The humor didn't go over well with the parent of one rejected applicant.

May 28, 2013

In the film "Admission," the fictional members of the Princeton University admissions office have a large notepad on an easel to note the various things they are called by those angry at being rejected (or having their children or advisees rejected).

Admissions officers indeed take plenty of abuse for their decisions. But it's probably wise to use an easel (or something else that cannot be forwarded online) when they vent. After all, such venting may be humorous to those in the profession, but that's not the case for the parents or counselors of those rejected by competitive colleges -- for whom there is nothing funny about not getting in. Northwestern University is discovering this.

Michael E. Mills, associate provost for enrollment, created a fake classification system in an internal admissions database to put complaining parents and counselors in different categories. Someone who saw the database didn't find it humorous and sent screenshots out to a number of people, one of them the parent of a rejected applicant, who sent copies to Inside Higher Ed, and posted a copy on College Confidential (a website popular with applicants).

In the Northwestern database, the new categories for "Angry Calls from Counselors and Parents" include: "%$^& You," "I know Pat Ryan" (a trustee and major donor), "You'll never get another applicant from my school," and "Shove it."

The parent said that it seemed as if Northwestern officials were "having some fun at our expense." The parent reached out to Inside Higher Ed because of recent coverage of a University of Pennsylvania admissions officer who ridiculed some applicants on Facebook. "I guess admissions people didn't learn the lesson," the parent said.

Alan K. Cubbage, a spokesman for the university, said via e-mail: "It was an ill-advised attempt at humor by a member of our staff. Northwestern strives to treat all our admission applicants respectfully and appropriately. This was an error in judgment and we apologize for it."


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