Yes! Seeking criminal and disciplinary histories on admission applications is like a medical test that generates false positives and negatives willy-nilly (“Abolish the Box,” On the Campus, July 8). Discriminatory policing and prosecution, plus plea bargains forced by risks of unacceptable consequences of going to trial, give poor whites and people of color records they should not have. Meanwhile, miscreants who have escaped detection or received leniency are undetected by “the box.”
The dean of admission says a checked box does not automatically disqualify. President Eisgruber ’83 suggests delaying asking the question until late in the admission process. However, we are years away from being free from society’s white-supremacist biases so that staff could reliably evaluate the meaning of a “yes” even then.
An equally rational question: “In the last three years, have you intentionally caused another bodily injury, appropriated or damaged another’s physical or intellectual property, practiced deception causing genuine harm to another or society, or incited others to do such acts? If so, explain and say how you feel about it now.” Of the few who should answer “yes,” some would not do so, but data obtained in this manner would at least be as reliable as that obtained now, and without the collateral damage. I doubt that the unreliability of all available systems for evaluating applicants’ moral histories causes much harm to the school.
Unfair outcomes aside, let’s stop sending potential applicants with records the message that the institution trusts unfair judicial and school disciplinary systems and will see the applicants as morally deficient. They get enough of that elsewhere.