Shaw says random student audits a possibility

July 22, 2010, 12:37 a.m.

This fall the Office of Undergraduate Admission is expected to maintain the status quo — save for two main changes. The office will bring on board a newly revamped admission staff after losing seven admission officers this year, and will decide whether or not to put a random auditing system in place.

The latter change likely stems from Stanford’s admission of Adam B. Wheeler, the ousted Harvard student who falsified his college applications and nabbed more than $45,000 in scholarships and financial aid. Stanford has since rescinded Wheeler’s acceptance.

Richard Shaw, dean of Undergraduate Admission, declined to comment on Adam Wheeler’s connection to Stanford, citing guidelines that prevent the disclosure of an individual applicant’s personal information. However, the Huffington Post last month reported that Shaw confirmed Wheeler’s admission to a Harvard detective.

Shaw was more open about the means by which Stanford plans to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.

“We are actually engaged in the consideration of audits of our undergraduate student body,” Shaw said of the Office of Undergraduate Admission.

“The issue of dishonesty and forgery on the national level is of concern,” he added. “I don’t think it’s widespread, but it certainly brings our attention to the need to implement [or] think about implementing procedures that would result in random audits.”

Shaw said that his office is examining the merit of random audits this summer and might “over the next period of time implement something like that — even through next year.”

The introduction of such precautions, however, may prove to be a double-edged sword. For Shaw, it’s a balancing act between two principles: trust and vigilance.

The admission office lives by the tenet that most students tell “the whole truth and nothing but the truth” when they sign off on their applications, Shaw said. However, he acknowledged that young people are dishonest from time to time, and that his office is cautious about stamping out such behaviors.

“It’s an awesome task to hold accountable 32,000 applicants,” Shaw said.

Aside from the possibility of a new auditing system, the Office of Undergraduate Admission will also welcome several new faces to its staff this fall, following the departure of seven admission officers during the 2009-10 academic year.

The most publicized departures were those of former Director of Admission Shawn Abbott and former Assistant Dean of Admission Dan Warner. Abbott left to serve as the new assistant vice president for undergraduate admissions at New York University. Warner opted to become the new director of admission at Rice University.

Of the remaining departures, three elected to attend graduate school, one chose to become a department chair at a secondary school and one will serve on the administrative staff of Semester at Sea.

Although losing seven staff members is a higher-than-usual turnover rate, Shaw noted that departures are, in general, normal. Younger staff members commit to a minimum of two years with the Office of Undergraduate Admission, oftentimes to “determine whether they want to go to graduate school or try something else,” Shaw said.

“I had a wonderful experience at Stanford and enjoyed every aspect of my life on the Farm,” Abbott wrote in an e-mail to The Daily, supporting Shaw’s claim. “My move to NYU was only inspired by my desire to take on a more significant leadership role within a university that isn’t already at the top.”

Shaw said that losing seven of 25 admission officers would not pose any difficulties this upcoming school year.

“With 18 onboard who can provide continuity, I think we’ll be just fine,” Shaw said. “We’ve hired a spectacular new group … who are extremely intelligent and capable. I think they’ll all hit the ground running.”

The admission office, however, still is looking for Abbott’s replacement. The search for a director of admission, Shaw said, is a longer one.

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