Harvey Mudd College has been roiled by a self-study, informally titled the Wabash report, that referred to some anonymous faculty declaring that efforts to promote diversity in the student body had lowered the quality of the school. At first, the school tried to block publication or censor parts of the report, completed in 2015, but leaks began and The Student Life, the school newspaper, ran what it said was the full report on March 24 of this year.
In a letter to students four days later, the Faculty Executive Committee wrote: “A small number among our faculty have expressed their concern that the admission of women and marginalized students has led to a lowering of standards, but a majority of faculty members disagree. One only has to examine student performance in a wide range of courses to see that the intellectual richness we love at Harvey Mudd has been enhanced by a diverse student body.” The report has still not been officially released.
Science and math are important at Harvey Mudd, one of five liberal arts colleges in the Claremont consortium that also include Pomona, Scripps, Pitzer, and Claremont McKenna, plus two graduate schools.
A committee examining the Harvey Mudd classroom environment commissioned a study from the Center of Inquiry at Wabash College in Indiana. Two representatives from the center visited campus and conducted focus groups with students and faculty members. The reference in the Wabash report to possible student decline from diversity efforts is low-key, vaguely attributed and brief:
“…a significant number of faculty thought that Harvey Mudd students had, over time, become less capable of, and less interested in, meeting the challenge of Mudd’s difficult curriculum. While it is not unusual for us to hear faculty lament ‘the decline in the quality of students,’ what was unusual, in our experience, was that many students had heard and felt this sentiment from some of their faculty. The students had also heard that they weren’t as good as Mudd students in the past because there are more women and underrepresented ethnic minorities at Mudd now. While some students brushed off these comments, others either resented them or took them to heart.”
The report spends a good deal of time discussing the lack of student interest in the college’s honor code and even more time on students’ feelings that the pace and the amount of work required at Mudd are too heavy and relentless. The long list of student complaints included these:
“I realized there would be more flexibility in college, but it was much harder than I thought it would be.” • “You’re always thinking, what’s the next thing to do?” • “I have no extra time for anything really.” • “I know I’m not procrastinating because I don’t have the time. I worry that my shower takes too long.” • “I want to have time to go to the store, buy food, get a haircut, do laundry, but I can’t because anytime I spend doing that is time I’m spending not doing homework.” • “Usually I stop when everything is done for the next day, but there’s always more stuff to do.” • “The first semester is hard but doable. It’s not as bad because it is pass/fail. The second semester is horrible. I was working so much, and I don’t remember anything.” • “I felt like I was being clubbed in the head by problem sets.”
Faculty comments about student workload and its impact included: “Mudd has an oppressive curriculum.” • “‘Happy’ is not a common way of describing Mudd students.” • “When they graduate, a good chunk of Mudd students aren’t sure if they would do it again. • “There are no role models for students here. HMC seniors are burnt-out. They’re not inspiring students to develop good habits.” • “All students can do physics here. They just can’t do it with all the other things they have to do.” • “Play is not an institutional value here.” • “Students don’t have time to reflect or relax. “Students are stretched so thin that if any little thing goes wrong, it all blows up.”
Student protesters concentrated on more mental health services, possibly because the faculty comments on diversity lowering school quality were tucked away in an unreleased report run only in the school paper. They wanted funding for mental health services to be boosted every year by 25 percent until the 2021-22 academic year. They called for a release of the student affairs office’s budget, and additional money — $3,000 each — for six student groups that represent minority interests on campus.
The administration also should carve out dedicated spaces in the college’s new academic building for each of these six groups, they wrote. When administrators didn’t respond to the demands, the students staged a sit-in April 12.
Later that week, students organized a march around campus and presented administrators with their demands. They want five new counselors for the coming academic year, with three of them being people of color. “When administrators didn’t respond to the demands, the students staged the sit-in April 12.
Maria Klawe, the college president, compromised on some of the student requests at the sit-in. She will provide $1,500 to each of the six minority student groups, a one-time allocation, with the administrators willing to consider more in the future.