Florida’s honors college for the state system may have twisted itself into a verbal knot because it does what apparently is common practice among colleges — adding a layer of review to applying students who had reported mental issues.
This makes eminent sense for college campuses who have been dealing with some tragic violence issues, not to mention the obvious academic reasons where mental issues could impact a student’s ability to be successful. Further, because colleges are legally required to treat students with mental issues, it seems almost imperative they have such policies.
However, in the hyper-diversosphere piloted by college campuses, even this cannot be tolerated.
So New College of Florida, the small, elite liberal honors college, got outed for this second layer of review, and accused of perhaps the worst possible charge for the PC community — discrimination. Once public, the college melted like an ice cream cone in Florida’s August heat and publicly committed to “cognitive diversity.” That phrase has been used to talk about how people think differently and solve problems differently. But that’s not what this seems to be.
Cognitive diversity seems like an awfully large loophole when it comes to admissions. By definition, an honors college is supposed to allow only the most cognitively advanced. It’s for really smart kids. And the kids at New College are really smart, at least book-smart. But with a phrase such as “cognitive diversity,” how fair is that to only have the more cognitively advanced?
New College is this idyllic college campus in Sarasota, Florida, near the Gulf of Mexico, that attracts some of the brightest students in the state for liberal arts education. It is well-known in the conservative region as a hotbed of liberal thinking, but only mild levels of activism — perhaps owing to its small size and academic rigors.
College leadership has generally been proud of the politically liberal students, but they also have a school to run and so the admissions office required students who disclose a mental health issue in their application essay to go through a second review — even if the students’ scores meet the criteria for automatic acceptance.
Some New College alumni thought this unfair and blew the whistle, which sparked the internal investigation. And then the whistleblowers went to the ideologically-friendly newspaper.
“It’s the definition of bias or discrimination to go through an extra barrier to get where someone else is,” Eugenia Quintanilla, one of the former admissions office staffers who exposed the practice, told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
Once the story went public, New College President Donal O’Shea issued a statement, in which he announced the college’s commitment to “cognitive diversity.”
“We are aware of complaints about the admissions process and the climate in the admissions office,” said O’Shea, who is generally considered a strong college president. “We take these VERY seriously,” he told the newspaper.
Here’s the catch. This is not only legal, it is apparently common practice at colleges.
That’s because universities are legally required to ensure they can provide mental health services to any students they admit. So it is just responsible to ensure they understand and can help with any potential student who discloses mental health issues.
It’s actually standard practice, according to Michael A. Olivas, a professor of higher education law at the University of Houston. He said he saw no discrimination in New College’s policies.
“This sounds to me like garden-variety decision making,” Olivas said.
But because of the rapid back-down, and turn to a potentially loaded phrase of “cognitive diversity,” this may portend problems for other colleges that also must provide mental health services and so further review the applications of students who have known mental issues.
EDITORS NOTE: This Revolutionary Act column is republished with permission.