President’s Column: Committing to Ethics and Accountability Together

By Stefanie Niles, NACAC President

I will admit – I have been a bit hesitant to write this piece. While it would seem a missed opportunity not to comment here about the bribery scandal, so much has been written about this topic in the past month that I wondered, “What can I say that is new and different? How can I be helpful, informative, and impactful?”

I have done about 18 interviews for TV, radio, and print related to the scandal. While many interviewers want to know if I am “shocked” by the scandal, others have examined more specific aspects of the scandal. Reporters have wanted to discuss the role of legacy admission, social media in admission, the prevalence of independent educational consultants, the interaction between admission and athletics, the process of providing accommodations for testing, ethics and integrity in the admission process, and more. I have also done my fair share of reading what others who have spoken to the media have said on this topic. I’ve heard different opinions or viewpoints on the matter and what could/should be done to “fix” it. Each piece I have read seems to introduce another layer of complexity.

I take some satisfaction in observing how many members of the news media have looked to NACAC to provide insight into the admission process as well as the ethical dimensions of this story. My board colleagues and I, as well as NACAC staff members, have done dozens of interviews about the scandal in the past few weeks, and many of them were with major news outlets. Likewise, our partner organizations in higher education have turned to our association to help lead the public effort to defend the integrity of the U.S. college admission system. And when the US House Committee on Education and Labor determined to hold a briefing in late March to examine concerns about access and equity raised by the scandal, committee staff members asked NACAC to provide expert witnesses -- former President Dan Saracino and Executive Director for Content and Policy David Hawkins. When I look for something positive that we can say about the scandal, I am proud that NACAC continues to be viewed as the “trusted source” to illuminate the problem and point the way towards solutions.

The scandal has shed light on vulnerabilities in the admission process. People make decisions, and individuals supply information that helps to inform those decision-making processes. And people are not infallible. This certainly does not make what happened excusable, but it does perhaps shed some light on how -- in a process that relies heavily on a commitment to ethics, trust, and integrity – some individuals will come up short. While I am not sure that we will ever be completely free of those who choose not to act with integrity, we can provide more education and recommit to holding ourselves, and those with whom we work, accountable.

Perhaps not since the inception of what is now called NACAC’s Code of Ethics and Professional Practice has this guiding force been needed more within our profession. With some calling for the college admission process to become a lottery and others asking whether donor gifts should be accepted while one has a child of college-going age, it is critical that we recommit ourselves to the practices and standards of ethical principles that led our predecessors to develop the CEPP over 80 years ago.

The NACAC Board and staff are deep in conversation about next steps. It is critical that our association continue to have a strong voice as these debates continue. We want to provide a forum for the leaders within our profession to come together to share thoughts and discuss relevant issues. We must determine if there are new educational tools, best practices, and ethical staples that we can and should be committing to that can be helpful to our members as they navigate their interactions with an increasingly skeptical and even fearful public.

You can expect to hear more from NACAC in the coming weeks as we seek to engage our members in dialogue about the next steps our profession needs to take in the face of the college admission scandal. I look forward to hearing your perspectives and insights as we, together, seek the answers to critical questions that will inform our ability to provide a clear path forward.

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