IEC Meets With Common App Tuesday After Abolish The Box Protest

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The Incarceration to Education Coalition met with Common Application Tuesday afternoon, a meeting that was granted after the IEC occupied Kimmel over the weekend to protest a question on NYU applications that asks about incarceration history. The question is asked on all graduate applications aside from The School of Social Work, which removed the question two months ago, and Wagner, as well as all undergraduate applications, which are facilitated through Common App.

IEC originally negotiated for a meeting with senior executives and staff at Common App, most notably Paul Mott, who is currently serving as Common App’s interim CEO. On Tuesday morning, IEC was told that Mott would not be meeting with the group. “The Common Application has renegged on the agreement for the CEO to meet with IEC today,” the group said in a statement. “We are outraged by this poor behavior… The responsibility of this nonprofit organization to maintain transparency and accountability to the community is clear.”

Notably, Politico reported Tuesday morning that Mott was leaving Common App after two years with the company and that Common App has hired a firm to seek out future leadership.

Six representatives from IEC met with Common App representatives over the phone for about 40 minutes. As part of the negotiations with NYU about the meeting, IEC set the agenda for the meeting, which included opening the meeting with a presentation by IEC. The audio from the meeting was broadcast live on Periscope.

During the presentation to open the meeting, one IEC representative brought up the fact that an argument for keeping the question would be to protect universities from negligence charges, but said that there is potential for lawsuits on both sides, considering the way that mass incarceration disproportionately affects people of color and other marginalized groups and could be seen as discrimination.

“This is where it gets dicey,” the representative said. Common App’s finances are handled by Blackstone Group, which has major holdings in Corrections Corporation of America, company that owns and manages private prisons. “So that means,” she said, “that adding the box without research or consultation had a positive financial incentive.” The Blackrock CEO is also on NYU’s Board of Trustees, and NYU also has holdings in private prisons.

“I can’t offer legal advice,” she said, “[but] a question I would raise is just considering the Common App’s own questionable relationship with the private industrial prison complex, is it really suitable for both NYU and the Common App to claim that other studies are not objective?”

Gil J. Villanueva, Common App’s chairman of the board and the associate vice president and dean of admission at University of Richmond, thanked the group after the presentation and then answered questions from IEC.

When asked why Common App added the question in 2006, Villanueva said, “Our country certainly was wrought by a lot of very unfortunate events that happened at college campuses across the United States, particularly, the biggest one was Virginia Tech, and certainly there was some concern about safety.”

Much of the meeting was dedicated to this question of why the question was added in 2006. “We did take a survey of our full membership of their opinions and perspectives on the possibility of adding the question to the Common Application,” said Scott Anderson, a senior staffer at Common App.

“You’re serving as a role model for a lot of other people in our country,” Villanueva told the group as the meeting closed. “Please take that as sincerely as possible.”

After the meeting, IEC issued a brief statement on their Facebook page about the meeting, saying, “Our meeting with the Common Application went as expected. The CA is substantially lacking in relevant knowledge on the subject… Now it is time to refocus on NYU and the steps the administration can take independently to stop the exclusion of formerly incarcerated people from our school.”

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