Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Is there a lack of trust and humanity among the professionals of the college admission world?

In my one-on-one meetings with admission directors and deans at this [College Board] conference, I repeatedly heard about “the shifting winds of change” to an earlier and earlier recruitment strategy, with the hope of capturing a significant portion of their applicant pool right away in the fall. (Or even earlier, now that the work being done by juniors on their Common Application will be preserved for further use in the senior year.)

To be honest, I am not bothered by change. In fact, I have come to embrace it.

What I have been bothered by (and in a big way) is the increased meanness and nasty personal attacks in our business. Perhaps this is an unintended consequence of communication via social media. We see it in the NACAC Exchange, as well as on Facebook and Twitter, with people lashing out in disagreement at colleagues. In our schools, we see it in the way parents treat us as counselors. We are saddened to learn about what some of our parents (or students) are saying to college admission officers. Is it really the case that people are just less kind these days?…

Colleagues, can we all be a little more “generous and humane?”

—(Phil Trout, President’s Letter at NACAC Website)

While there are difficult issues and hard questions to confront, I’m encouraged by how we put students at the center of our work. While we can disagree on the methods, it is critical to find commonalities rather than engage in criticism by bashing one another’s views.

As busy as we are, and as much pressure as we feel in our own institutions or organizations, we must find ways to reestablish the trust that seemed to exist years ago in our profession….

Politically, socially, economically, and personally, whatever our age and stage in our careers, we need to find ways to establish and maintain mutual respect and affirmation….

I am convinced we all need to take a deep breath… [and] recommit to developing constructive relationships with each other; believe we can bring about positive results; and give each other the benefit of the doubt.

—Nancy Beane, NACAC President-elect

I must not have been paying attention, because I haven’t seen the nastiness and personal attacks that Phil mentions or the “bashing of one another’s views” that Nancy mentions. I haven’t seen “increased meanness and nasty personal attacks.” I’m not aware of anything on the NACAC Exchange or Facebook/Twitter that equals what I’ve seen on some political sites or during a Drumpf rally or Republican debate. If anyone reading this entry can point me to anything, I’d be glad to get clued in. [Full disclosure: Phil and I are college classmates and I know Nancy from my time in the Amherst admission office. I respect both of them a great deal.]

Because Phil’s and Nancy’s comments are vague and wide-ranging, it’s hard to react specifically. To be honest, I don’t follow the NACAC Exchange, so I may just have missed a whole lot of vitriol; the Facebook page is usually pretty tame. If there really is an epidemic of insult and trollery going on, I’d like to know what it is. We should see what’s causing it and work to improve the level of discourse among us. I’d like to think that any disagreements have been on principle, even if they may not always have been politely expressed.

What views have been “bashed” and what trust has been broken? For example, I and others have been very outspoken over the last few months about what I consider to be two egregious and wrongheaded developments in the college admission world, the Coalition and the “Tide.” I can’t think of anything else that’s caused as much controversy in the recent past except College Board’s “new, improved” SAT.

If that’s it, then I wish leadership would say so. I question the notion that we all need to get along even if we have severe and substantive objections to the behaviors of certain members, especially members acting as a bloc without significant consultation. The challenges to counselors and students created by the Coalition and the “Tide” report are significant and extremely harmful; they should be opposed clearly and in a principled manner. The same would be true in any other situation. If “getting along” means “don’t rock the boat,” you can bet I’m not down with that, as the kids say.

We need to distinguish between principled opposition and trolling/bashing/meanness; between attacking ideas versus attacking individuals. I get the feeling that Phil and Nancy are saying the former in each case somehow equals the latter, that objecting means trashing or personalizing. If trust has been broken, we need to know how and over what, and if that’s true, whether and how it can be repaired.

It’s not generally done to acknowledge there can be opposing sides at NACAC or have a real debate about admission matters. Leadership usually encourages members, especially on the college counseling side, to be patient, to “understand,” or to go along with whatever comes up. But more is at stake these days than simply getting students into college. How that is configured affects students far more than it has done in the past. These actions need to be discussed and debated in the open, not just as they affect the college process, but as they affect students’ educational, social, and personal lives.

The following elements are part of NACAC’s Statement of Core Values:

  • Professionalism: “…We are responsible for the integrity of our actions and, insofar as we can affect them, the actions of our member institutions and organizations.”
  • Collaboration: “We believe that the effectiveness of our profession…is enhanced when we work together to promote and protect students and their best interests.”
  • Trust: “We believe our profession…is based upon trust, mutual respect and honesty with one another…”
  • Fairness and Equity: “We believe our members have a responsibility to treat one another and students in a fundamentally fair and equitable manner.”

All of these elements depend, I believe, on our willingness to have full and fair discussions among members, especially when major changes are contemplated in the way we do business. For example, I believe the Coalition has trespassed on these core values and I’d like to have a very substantive discussion about that. Simply pleading for everyone to get along when controversial issues arise undermines all of these elements. If we are truly colleagues, we should be able to handle disagreements professionally, which means engaging with each other, not keeping quiet. If certain developments make us angry, they should be acknowledged and dealt with, not swept under the carpet or dismissed.

Phil urges us to be “generous and humane” and Nancy wants us to “recommit to positive relationships.” Admirable goals, but without being attached to anything specific, what do these phrases mean? I’ve been harsh in my criticisms of the Coalition and “Tide,” but I think they’re deserved and in keeping with the egregiousness of their content. I’ve never attacked anyone personally and I’ve always tried to back up my opposition with reasons. To this date, no one has offered a real rebuttal to anything I’ve said, so I can’t even comment about that. If I have offended individuals, I apologize; that was never my intent. No one’s let me know, in any case. And I want exactly those qualities, too.

Of course, none of this could be about me at all and I’m just flattering myself. As Oscar Wilde said (by way of Monty Python), “The only think worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” Maybe I’m shouting into a void or punching Jello. But if there’s really  as much of a crisis as Phil and Nancy have suggested, it’s worthwhile to get specific. Papering over cracks doesn’t eliminate them, it just delays the inevitable.






4 thoughts on “Can’t We All Just Get Along?

  1. I think that most of the nastiness Phil and Nancy refer to has been on the NACAC exchange, so if you are not following that, you probably missed most of it. I liked Katy Murphy’s recent “reminder” to play nice, as some of the comments have made me (and probably many others) feel uncomfortable. In my opinion people move around all of the time in this business, so we need to be very careful not to criticize, judge, generalize or stereotype. I have many times thought about Rodney King’s famous quote when following some of this, so bravo for titling your post this way to get everyone’s attention.


      • Well, Will — if you’re genuine about handing out apologies when you personally attack someone — look back to what you posted about me on the Facebook group on February 11. I would graciously accept your apology. You characterized me as asking people to not have opinions and as presumptuous. I made a respectful request ONLY for a particular post — not for the entire Facebook page and you just ripped me. I decided it would be incredibly foolish of me to respond at the time — I’m not into social media wars. But I’ve not forgotten it. However, even after that, when you write interesting and thoughtful pieces, I appreciate them. Both Individual people and organizations are complex and come with the good and the bad. One way in which we probably differ is that I don’t think it’s so easy to separate the personal and the organizational. Actual people (almost always well-intentioned and hard-working in my 40+ years of experience) make up the non-profit organizations and institutions associated with college admissions. Most people take pride in the organizations of which they are members or affiliates– but not to the point that they can’t see issues and problems or accept constructive criticism. But wholesale negativity directed at one’s organization or institution becomes hard to hear to the point where one might stop listening. I’ve found that wholesale criticism is generally not going to bring about engagement and compromise with those with whom I have disagreements. I’ve been very active with many professional groups over the years and have come to be fairly well-respected. But I know that I’m also known in some circles as a caring critic, if not a provocateur (don’t get me started on “under-matching”!). I’ve found that I can’t always affect real change, but when I have been able to influence, it’s been in the context of acknowledging the good intentions and overall positive purposes of both individual people and their institutions and organizations and only then bringing up the sticky, specific issues that have potential for harm, as well as ideas for improvement. That may or may not work for you – but I offer it up as one strategy for enhancing civil discourse and professional exchange.

        Because I’m suggesting an apology — I will not be at all offended if you don’t post this on your blog (if you curate) or if you remove it. But if you wish to apologize or at least acknowledge my request — you can email me at

        I beg to differ with Gina above — I follow both. Not that it’s a prize – but the Facebook page has much more snark, sarcasm, jumping to conclusions without all the facts, and organizational bashing than does the NACAC listserve.


        • Hello Pam– I’ve reviewed the post you mentioned and I don’t feel I owe you an apology. You made a request:

          “may I respectfully ask that those who use this Facebook page to express their negative opinions about specific institutions and organizations perhaps start other posts and/or use other threads to do so?”

          I responded by saying, basically, that you don’t really have the right to request, respectfully or not, that people voice their objections elsewhere than the Counselors’ FB page. It’s for discussion, and disagreement is part of that. You posted Phil’s letter for a reason, but I have no idea what it is. Are you referring to Purdue? To the Coalition? I did not attack you personally, but outlined my objections to your request, which is not the same thing. You were rather arch in your post and I responded in kind, for better or worse. I don’t think it’s within anyone’s purview (except the admins’) to tell people to go away. I don’t know what Phil and Nancy were talking about and I don’t know what you meant by the post’s being “hijacked.” Vague comments by NACAC leadership about nastiness and so on without specifics only make me wonder what the hell is going on. It’s like someone who tells you people are saying things about you but won’t say who. If you or anyone else would like to enlighten me and the rest of the membership about this epidemic, I’d be grateful. You seem to have a particular stake in the matter; be candid instead of circumspect and perhaps you’ll effect some change.


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