Defending the Presidential Scholarship:

Defending the Presidential Scholarship:

Why scholarship interviewers ‘exhibit preference, not bias’…

In light of a previous piece entitled “Problems With Presidential Scholars,” written by a senior Presidential Scholar, numerous conversations, as he intended, have occurred, primarily within the Presidential Scholar Society. While the author does address certain aspects of the scholarship he feels need improvement, the comments made about the process that determines the recipients of nearly $160,000 are not based on up-to-date facts. Moreover, inaccurate generalizations are made about a group of nearly one hundred of his peers, comprising one percent of the student population, and he inadequately questions who a Presidential Scholar is at his or her core.

In regard to how students are awarded the full-tuition award — there is an extensive application, interview and grading process each applicant undergoes. First, a potential student, meeting specific criteria (a 3.85 GPA and a 30 or above ACT) must fill out an application, attaching both a resumé and letters of recommendation. This application, which has since been revised and improved this past academic year, allows students to provide the Office of Admission a comprehensive, holistic view of who they are as individuals. Then, following intense review, students are invited to interview for the full-tuition award if they have met certain additional criteria. Interviewees undergo two sets of interviews in which at least one current Scholar serves as interviewer in each set, meaning each candidate comes in contact with a minimum of two current Scholars. The other interviewers are composed of SLU alumni, SLU faculty or past Scholars. Moreover, interviewers are offered, and in some cases mandated, to attend information sessions hosted by the Office of Admission, explaining grading criteria for candidates and outlining what differentiates a Scholar from others interviewing.

Some have vocalized concern with the “bias” that occurs within the interview process. To this, I have three responses. First, if a Presidential Scholar feels the individuals with whom he or she is interviewing alongside are not informed, inform them. Tell the Office of Admission, who ultimately runs the event. The Scholar’s voice is crucial during this process, but is only relative if he or she makes his or her voice known. Second, all interviewers — true in any interview process, not just the interviews conducted at Saint Louis University — exhibit preference, not bias. The author even said it himself: when interviewing, he “favor[s] students with clear passions that they hope to bring to SLU.” Passions are wonderful, but who knew passion was more worth a full-tuition scholarship than having “excellent interpersonal communication skills” or exhibiting leadership? The argument of preference, or what the author deems bias, is something the author himself does. And finally, striving to award candidates that are “diverse” because current Scholars are not “diverse” is a simple attempt to solve what some view as a problem.

As a Presidential Scholar, the leadership I and my peers have assumed over our years on campus have not only been formative for ourselves as individuals, but also for the organizations for which we have been and are a part. Some might argue there is a lack of unifying identity, or a rubric that outlines “what it means to be a Presidential Scholar.” I completely disagree with this claim, simply because of the fact so many of us possess leadership roles in varying organizations campus-wide. Think of the presence this group has on campus. From Oriflamme to Housing and Residence Life, from the Office of Admission to OneWorld, from a capella groups to Greek Life, from Micah to FSA and many more, one thing we as a collective group on campus can agree with, is that we all have at least one organization to which we are devoted and display our interests.

To me, I think that is identity enough. For someone to say we must be limited to a specific outline stating who exactly we are to be over the course of four years is not only stunting but goes against everything for which the scholarship stands. Moreover, it is the personal responsibility of every Presidential Scholar to forge his or her own path and decide what being a recipient means to him or her.

If there are concerns, address them fully with those that can answer questions and assuage worry. Specifically, talk to the Office of Admission, and learn the process where you will be, on average, 20% of the deciding factor as to whether or not someone is a recipient of this award. Be grateful you are a Scholar because, whether you want to admit it or not, so many avenues have been opened to you by being a beneficiary. Become involved, and get to know your fellow Scholars. Partake in the mentor-mentee program, provide suggestions to the Presidential Scholar Society Board, interact with your class representatives. Serve as a TA for our Honors Crossroads class. Address concerns you have with factual information, and more importantly, do so less than $120,000 into your time at SLU. Part of being a leader is taking action, and being a leader is, after all, one of the main components of what it means to be, and identify as, a Presidential Scholar.

-Madeline Cornell

…and why criticism without ‘work toward solutions’ is meaningless

One of the traits I admire most in SLU students is our courage to outwardly speak against injustices and in favor of the values that we hold as a University — even and especially when they concern sensitive and controversial issues. Last week’s op-ed, “Problems With the Presidential Scholarship,” attempted to tackle an issue that, for some, is indeed both sensitive and controversial. Yet, it lost sight of what I can only assume was the author’s goal: to judge the true scale of the problem and find serious solutions.

With recipients of the scholarship comprising only one percent of the undergraduate population, the administration and utilization of the Presidential Scholarship is not well-known among the majority of students. In that context, one phrase from the op-ed is especially rhetorical and condemning: “When I think about Presidential Scholar culture, I immediately think of off-campus parties, stuffing leftover food from banquets into Tupperware containers and upperclassmen drinking too much free alcohol on interview weekends.” As a senior Scholar myself, I am saddened and concerned that these three somewhat inaccurate and misleading statements have defined the scholarship for the author. I am also curious as to why the author has chosen to address these concerns now instead of at some point within the past three and a half years.

First, I would be hard-pressed to identify an organization on campus whose upperclassmen do not have at least one off-campus celebration during the year for all of its members. The Presidential Scholar Society is no different. The interview weekends are opportunities to reunite with other Scholars and friends that we rarely see. That being said, taking food home in Tupperware containers (somewhat isolated incidents) and allowing Scholars of age to drink during the reception have been banned for years for the sake of professionalism. Pres. Scholar interview weekends are certainly not the “free-for-all” that the author depicts but hours that most consider serious obligations to the University.

The author brings up a few worthwhile and complex points, namely the lack of racial and ethnic diversity of the Scholarship recipients, yet he fails to mention that diverse recruiting and retention is an issue with which most universities struggle. Biased criteria for all scholarship awards, not only the most prestigious scholarships, is an issue that is and should be heavily considered by institutions of higher learning. He also failed to investigate the methods that diversity and multicultural departments within SLU’s Office of Admission currently employ to make the same information and outreach accessible to all — regardless of where one went to high school or how much one’s parents make. This is why our application for admission and all additional scholarship applications are free-of-charge and why the Pres. Scholarship application was revised to more accurately reflect the values of the scholarship. I know first-hand that the issues that the author mentions are not new, ground-breaking topics but questions with which SLU departments constantly grapple because of a multitude of systemic factors.

It is important to be critical of the groups to which we belong as well as the members, but criticism is eventually rendered meaningless when not supplemented by comprehensive investigation and work toward solutions. The author’s points are complaints — not arguments. They inspire outrage over action. If our current application process is not the best process to date, what is? Which institutions are implementing such a process and how might we? How can we interview 500 students in a reasonable amount of time with as little bias as possible? What should be the diversity goals of a full-tuition leadership scholarship? Answering these questions requires a significant amount of research, investigation and collaboration — not an op-ed that generalizes 90 plus students, the vast majority of whom are dedicated to a variety of on- and off-campus leadership and social justice initiatives. I hope that the author has considered applying for the Investigative Learning Experience funding available to Pres. Scholars to study these important questions or those of the like.  An executive board member of the Presidential Scholar Society has already contacted me to form a discussion group on how to improve the scholarship requirements and experience.

My biggest issue with this op-ed is that it does not criticise the scholarship process as much as current Pres. Scholars. As a past TA for the Honors Crossroads course and a participant in the mentor-mentee program, I know first-hand that the vast majority of scholars do their best to give back to the community in gratitude and will likely continue to give back long after they graduate. It is likely that the same scholars that party on the weekends have also implemented months-long sustainability projects in developing countries, hold leadership positions at non-profits and assist in ground-breaking medical research. The same Scholars who enjoy the food at the reception volunteer at homeless shelters during the winter, promote fair trade products and work in urban gardens. I would even argue that the lack of binding requirements (beyond GPA) allows Scholars to organically carve their own path so that they can uniquely follow the University’s commitment.

My main point: sweeping generalizations and mischaracterizations function to spark outrage, not find solutions. Current Pres. Scholars and all those interested in making changes to the selection process, talk to the Pres. Scholar Society and the Office of Admission, do your research and form arguments — not complaints.

-Paulina Menichiello

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