Headline: Admissions Suspicions Confirmed
Subheadline: Left Over Right, Black Over White
Author: Elise Viebeck
Claremont McKenna College is often labeled "a conservative institution." During the school's formative years, much of the student population and faculty identified themselves as right of center, and as a whole, CMC students have never been overwhelmingly liberal like the majority of their fellow college students. Not, at least, until now.
According to the CMC view book that is sent to prospective students, students are divided into an almost-perfect bell curve based on their political attitudes: 4 percent say far left, 3 percent far right, 29 percent liberal, 26 percent conservative, and 38 percent middle of the road.
Every year, CMC administers a national survey from the Higher Education Research Institute at the UCLA Graduate School of Education during freshman orientation. The data goes back to 2001. Even the class of the class of 2005 is disturbingly inconsistent with the data in the view book: 6.6 percent reported far left political leanings, 1.8 percent far right, 43.0 liberal, 17.1 percent conservative, and 31.6 percent middle of the road.
Not only is the data wrong, but it shows that CMC's student body is growing increasingly liberal. For the class of 2009, 4.6 percent reported far left political leanings, 1.5 percent far right, 45.8 liberal, 12.7 percent conservative, and 35.4 percent middle of the road.
The real data makes the supposed bell curve significantly lopsided on the right. Vice President of Student Affairs Jeff Huang concedes, "It is unusual on college campuses to have a right over left tilt as has been the case during certain portions of CMC history. But that's not currently the caseÖit is now heavily left over right."
This trend is not new. In the last five years, the share of conservatives peaked in the class of 2006 at 20.7 percent. That number has declined ever since, hitting 12.7 percent for the class of 2009, though this shift has not prompted a change in admissions rhetoric. According to Dean of Admissions Richard Vos, our political distribution sets us apart from other colleges in appealing to prospective students who value open-mindedness and rigorous discussion. This aspect particularly reinforces CMC's purpose of creating successful leaders; in promoting the debate from various points of view, CMC better equips its students for futures in the realm of public affairs.
CMC has a unique and valuable niche in the market for higher education and must protect it. Besides being a highly selective liberal arts college, our breadth and balance of political affiliation is rare and precious. Such relative political equality, regardless of whether it is slightly left- or right- leaning, must be considered in view of other top schools in the nation. Elite colleges like Haverford and Amherst lack a thriving conservative presence both on campus and within the faculty, a deficiency that, according to Huang, limits their students' growth, intellectual development, and understanding of diversity.
While CMC does not discriminate based on political leaning, it does discriminate on race. Statistics provided by the admissions office show that it admitted roughly 45 percent of both black and Hispanic applicants, versus 22 percent of the white applicants and 17 percent of the Asian applicants. The gap suggests an agenda on the part of CMC admissions, though, according to Vos, no such agenda exists.
The policies that govern admissions decisions are created by the CMC Board of Trustees and the CMC Admission and Financial Aid Committee, a standing committee of the faculty. Current policy states that the student body should be diverse in many ways: racially, geographically, politically, and socio-economically. Vos commented that CMC designed its "affirmative action admission policy" in view of the Supreme Court ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger in 2003, which allows colleges to use a holistic approach to the admissions process. The college can consider race, but only as one of many deciding factors. "The goal is more philosophical and less prescriptive," says Huang in reference to admissions' desire for a diverse student population.