Altstadt: Northwestern shouldn’t require open admission policies for student groups


Jacob Altstadt, Columnist

On Sunday, The Daily reported that the University plans to “require most student groups (to) adopt open admission policies” and would consider enforcing this new ban on applications by cutting funding and university recognition. Brent Turner stated in a quote included in the news release that the University’s goal was to “enrich the Northwestern community,” and he asked, “What better way to do that than creating access and removing all the barriers for students to get involved?” However, I can think of very few things that could be worse for the enrichment of this school than the removal of the application process for student groups. This policy is misguided and will only serve to impair the very student body it claims to aid. I understand the overarching goal of the new policy: to create an inclusive campus environment and to ensure that all students are given the chance to get involved. However, inclusivity can and should be accomplished in other fashions, and there are over 500 student groups at NU that range in interests, goals and level of involvement. I would put the chances of being rejected from or not being able to join any of the 500-plus groups at next to impossible. There is an organization for everyone.

The University uses an application process for positions such as Peer Advisers and tour guides because these jobs require a specific type of individual to effectively perform an essential task. Student-run organizations that use applications are no different. The application process ensures the most qualified and highest-skilled applicants receive the position. Closed admission allows the organization to screen unfit candidates and maintain an optimal level of talent, therefore leaving the entire organization better off. Many organizations derive their value from their selectivity. Being accepted into a club that holds itself to a high standard becomes a significant accomplishment. But, the new policy would inherently devalue being a member of an organization. By allowing anyone to join an organization the University would debase the entire reputation and caliber of a group and remove the significance of being accepted. Consequently, by banning applications school-wide, the University would cripple the entire worth of its extracurricular life.

It is naive and immature to state that everyone should be able to join any club they want. There are a countless number of clubs in which accepting everyone without a preliminary screening process is not only unfeasible but also counterproductive. A consequential facet behind the motivation to contribute and work hard in a club is the sentiment that one had to earn their spot in the organization. If there are no barriers to enter a student group, students would undoubtedly join for the sake of joining and organizations would be saturated with unmotivated students who don’t value the group as much as they would have had they faced an application process. Requiring open admission creates an equality of results — rather than an equality of opportunity — that incentivizes laziness and strips our campus of any semblance of motivation to innovate. Inequality of results is a fact of life. Increasing the number of students in an organization when that number is not needed would dilute the experience for every student, decrease the efficacy of the organization’s programming and projects and curb any motivation to perform at a high level.

To be frank, in the real world when people apply to jobs and receive multiple “heartbreaking” rejections, as Hope Wallace, assistant director of Student Organizations and Activities, said in The Daily article, there is not a parent organization they can run to, complain to and ask for the rules to be changed. Rather than pity oneself when facing rejection, one should use the experience as inspiration for improvement and motivation for the next opportunity. Rejection is a part of life. Removing it from the college experience hinders the very emotional and intellectual growth necessary for a collegiate education and experience. Furthermore, the removal of rejection, with the goal of including everyone, would revert to a childish policy of participation medals rather than awarding membership based on merit. The University would foolishly conflate actual involvement with hollow membership and rejection with personal feelings.

The irony of the situation is that students attend an institution that derives its elite stature from its exclusivity and continuously decreasing admission rates. Yet, the University’s extrinsic values would contradict its intrinsic ones: The sense of accomplishment felt from admission to one of the country’s most selective schools would not be felt in the student groups within the school itself. I wrote about this in the fall — college students are already sheltered from opinions that may contradict their own for the sake of their emotional well-being, but now the University may also shelter them from rejection? I envision a dystopian future where students will graduate having never faced an ounce of adversity in their college career and fully expect the real world to coddle them in a parallel nature to that of their university. By eliminating the application process, the University only further pampers students.

Turner was further quoted as saying he believes, “We’re being courageous,” by requiring open admission policies for student groups. But, I wonder whether he and the University have a skewed idea of what courage is. To me, courage is the will to take on challenges knowing full well that failure is a possible outcome. A policy that would inhibit any sort of adversity would create a situation in which courage is no longer possible, but where everyone is coddled into getting everything they want.

If the University follows through with this policy, the extracurricular experience at NU will be worse off. Membership in organizations that use applications will lose its value, and the members themselves will lose motivation to put forward their best work. Worst of all, the University will provide an unrealistic outlook on life beyond college.

Jacob Altstadt is a McCormick junior. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.