"I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind, got my paper, and now I'm free."
In all the ways that count, our Madeline's college search has been successful. Despite glitches, the Common Application worked, the transcripts got delivered, the test scores got submitted, the essays and recommendation letters got filed. In fact, at this writing, Indiana U and Rutgers U have already accepted our young bundle of hope and opportunity and other acceptances will be following soon. She's going to be fine.
But wow, has this been an intrusive process. I'm required to lay open my financial life, such as it is, to utterly anonymous college financial aid analysts. (And people worry about the NSA!) Meanwhile, Madeline has been required to lay out far more than her academic track record. She has to explain "who she is as a person." Listing extracurriculars, community service, blah, blah, blah.
I get why colleges want to scope my bank account. But the beauty contest BS that Madeline faces has annoyed me from the beginning. I find it absurd that academic institutions actually do not use academic performance as the deciding factor in admissions. The academic successes wind up being assumed, taken for granted, thus leaving your child's college destiny to whether she can impress a stranger with what she did outside the classroom.
So instead of a fairly straightforward system -- based on grades and long-established college readiness exams -- admission to college becomes a matter of hidden, arbitrary and fuzzy judgments about a person's character, athletic skills or whatever other factor is in vogue.
All of this is bad, but nothing new. But then I saw this article about a college deciding to reject an applicant because the student said rude things about people on Twitter. Really? Surely college admins have better things to do than poke around on social media. But apparently about 30 percent of them actually don't.
"Of 381 college admissions officers who answered a Kaplan telephone questionnaire
this year, 31 percent said they had visited an applicant's Facebook or other
personal social media page to learn more about them - an increase of 5
percentage points from last year. More crucially for those trying to get into
college, 30 percent of the admissions officers said they had discovered
information online that had negatively affected an applicant's prospects."
And thus the surveillance society tightens its grip.
Yes, yes yes. We understand that things written in e-mails, posted on blogs or broadcast via social media are not really private. But that doesn't mean they are wide open for everybody to see, either. If people take steps that show an expectation of privacy -- such as sending a message to a specific person, or a limited group, then privacy should be respected. If you picked a "friends" only setting or took any other similar steps, you are saying this is my back yard. If you are not invited, you should not be here, and you certainly don't get any say over what goes on.
We don't let our bosses into our bedrooms. We don't give colleges, lenders or anyone else the right to walk into our house whenever they so choose to poke around our drawers. Yet our schools, our employers, our government show almost no sense of restraint in how deeply they choose to snoop into a citizen's life.
No, employers. You do not have a legitimate reason to look up an applicant's credit report. Unless you are the lender, a person's debt level is not your business. But you do this kind of privacy invasion anyway, because you can. And why not? Few people who need a job would risk their prospects over resisting a credit search.
No, high schools. You have no business imposing disciplinary rules on children for behavior off school property and outside school hours or sponsored activities. Kicking a kid off the team for getting caught drinking beer at a private party is not defensible. You are sticking your nose into the morals business -- even though you are not a church -- just because you can. And why not? Who's going to stand up for underage drinking or illegal drug use?
No, colleges. You have no business snooping around on social media sites as part of your evaluation of an applicant -- even less so if you fail to state in advance to applicants that you intend to do such a thing.
I object to these things because individuals are supposed to have rights in this nation. We-the-people supposedly believe in freedom of speech (along with religion and assembly). We expect to be protected against unreasonable search and seizure. And yet we are cowed into submitting to all manner of privacy invasion just to conduct basic business transactions.
I don't recall seeing the agreement under which we give college admins the authority to determine what we are allowed to say on Twitter. As if scandal-ridden colleges have any claim to a moral high ground.
Colleges do have a tough job deciding who to accept when applications outnumber available seats. But if they really cannot figure out how else to break academic "ties" between qualified students, then the fairest way to decide would be a random lottery. There is no need, nor any justification, for snooping on social media to make these calls.
The "right" to privacy is not stated in the Constitution, true enough. But the expectation of privacy exists nonetheless, especially when communicating with others.
We would scream bloody murder if a college or employer opened our sealed mail as it moves through the postal system. We would be very upset if the boss could bug our bedrooms. We would be alarmed if we caught the boss following us around in a public park so they can hear conversations with our friends.
So why is digital eavesdropping so easily tolerated? Even now in social media world, there are lines that should not be crossed. Colleges snooping through Instagrams and Twitter accounts stomp over those lines, ushering us one step closer to a privatized version of "1984." So stop it.
Of course, it's wise for people to be aware of their surroundings when they say things -- and that includes being cautious in the digital world. But the grown-ups -- the institutions -- should know better. Just because a college can hear the chatter does not mean it should be listening in. They know that better than the 17-year-old gossip girl talking trash.
Nothing fair can come out of selective social media snooping. One girl gets caught in odd circumstances, and then gets "punished." Well, how many other students were not investigated for their tweeting and sexting and drunk Facebooking? How many nasty comments about professors occur in dorm rooms and campus greens? And who gets to decide which words are unforgivably rude and what's just barely acceptable?
Higher education is a business transaction; a bundle of services purchased for a mutually agreed upon price. The relationship between seller and buyer is and should be limited to the information needed to complete the transaction and nothing more.
College applicants are not making marriage proposals, nor seeking security clearance. They do not deserve to be treated like targets of a private investigation. So colleges, mind your own business. Quit peeping through the social media windows of your students.