President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 announced at a meeting last Monday that the University will likely continue to ask admission applicants about their criminal records.
Monday’s Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC) meeting provided a rare glimpse into administrators’ opinions regarding current student activism like the Ban the Box campaign. Meeting organizers also discussed initiatives like the Pace Center’s new Service Focus program, and scientific innovation on campus.
There are six CPUC meetings every year, each of which provides an opportunity for departmental representatives and administrators to better understand the current state of campus. Meetings also function to provide advice to Eisgruber, who leads discussion, and are official avenues through which students can express grievances and bring arguments before campus decision-makers.
The most tense moment of Monday’s meeting occurred when Eisgruber informed the room that he will likely decide to continue the practice of asking about conviction status on the University’s undergraduate application, which the campus’ Ban the Box campaign vehemently opposes.
The national campaign argues that colleges and universities should stop asking questions about applicants’ criminal records. They say this will help make the college application process more inclusive.
Eisgruber defended the practice of asking questions about applicants’ criminal records by saying that such questions help maintain safety on campus and promote positive values among students.
“I think there are some kinds of criminal activity that may be related to risks that could occur on the campus. So we take those risks seriously,” Eisgruber said. “We look at a number of positive indicia and evidence that students have done well in relationship to leadership and values that they have and we also look at things like school disciplinary records when we do that. I don’t see reasons to … ignore entirely evidence that somebody has engaged in criminal activity.”
In the meeting, Ban the Box aimed to convince CPUC that the University undergraduate application should not ask about an applicant’s conviction status.
Student presenter Nathan Poland ’20 argued asking for conviction status “systematically discriminates against students with conviction status.”
Ban the Box presenters argued that even if a history of conviction does not necessarily mean a student will be rejected, research shows the presence of the question deters people with convictions from applying. Ban the Box said this perpetuates racial and class inequalities because certain populations systematically face a higher conviction rate in the United States.
Poland also argued that admission officers’ biases negatively affect convicted students’ chances of acceptance.
“It’s been shown that implicit bias leaks into people’s decisions in moments when they rely on heuristics…. People are more likely to go with socially accepted notions of what is right and what is wrong, which will often lead to previously convicted students receiving rejections rather than acceptance regardless of the rest of the content of their application,” Poland said.
In response, Eisgruber told the presenters he will explore how the University can “ask the question better so that it mitigates some of the detriments you referred to.”
Ban the Box presenter Amanda Eisenhour ’21 appreciated Eisgruber’s response.
“Now that we know his arguments, we can better devise a strategy for the future,” she said. Eisenhour also said that now, Ban the Box will find “research that can specifically address [Eisgruber’s] concerns.”
After Ban the Box’s presentation, many students left the meeting, creating murmurs throughout the faculty.
The meeting also opened discussions about investing in graduate student and faculty innovation.
Provost Deborah Prentice discussed the University’s broad goals for increasing innovation. As stated in her presentation, the University’s goal is “to facilitate innovation, entrepreneurship, and partnerships that will enhance the quality and impact of Princeton’s research and teaching.”
Prentice argued that corporate sponsorship of the University’s innovation will have a positive impact on the world.
She said, “Intel labs has sponsored some cutting-edge work, collaborative between Princeton Neuroscience Institute and computer scientists in order to get real time output from functional magnetic resonance imaging so that you can actually see what people’s brains are doing in real time. That was an enormous computing problem. It’s a fantastic research discovery and it wouldn't have been possible without Intel support and in kind contributions in the form of the processors.”
“Increasingly corporate sponsorships are actually involved in this colocation, especially in the tech field. So that could be a possibility for us in the future,” she said.
Her presentation also attempted to demonstrate the positive role ‘innovation spaces’ can potentially play in the new expanded campus that will be built south of Lake Carnegie.
Prentice’s opinions about the University’s innovation was met with intense scrutiny from the mechanical and aerospace engineering major Noah Schochet ’21.
Schochet expressed frustration in the lack of infrastructure to support undergraduate innovation, citing his inability to build his own products before senior year.
“You admit students because they’re innovative, but I have a feeling and experiences that show you don’t support student innovators,” he said. “As someone working on a startup myself, I found a huge lack of resources, tools, and opportunities.”
Prentice responded by saying she would like to hear feedback from students and work towards more student innovation.
The meeting also promoted new service opportunities at the University.
The Pace Center’s Kimberly de los Santos and Yi-Ching Ong, and three students presented Service Focus, a new program from the center that connects students’ academic life with service.
De los Santos said that through hands-on meetings with small groups on specific service projects, summer internships, and a required service-related course, the program bridges service and learning.
Jimin Kang ’21 spoke about how she got involved with Service Focus last year and now focuses on promoting locally sourced food with the program. She said Service Focus helps her do service through academic topics which she’s always loved. For example, last summer she was engaged in a service journalism project related to promoting local food.
Student presenters argued Service Focus expanded their definition of service. Before, they worried they didn’t have time for service. Now, the program has taught them how to incorporate service into their existing schedule. They want other University students to learn how to do the same.
Monday’s meeting was the second of six annual CPUC meetings, and was held in Betts Auditorium. The next CPUC meeting will be Dec. 10 at 4:30 p.m. in the same location.