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Olympia, don’t mess with UW admissions

Post by Kim Bradford on Jan. 29, 2009 at 9:45 pm with No Comments »
January 29, 2009 9:45 pm

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

A state lawmaker upset about the University of Washington’s special treatment of student-athletes should back off his bill.

Rep. Dave Upthegrove appears to be having a Revenge of the Nerds moment.

The Des Moines Democrat was the kid in school who watched "Citizen Kane" on a surplused film projector while football players reviewed game footage on big-screen televisions.

And it’s stuck in his craw ever since. When the University of Washington announced that it was closing its doors to new students this spring – athletes excepted – Upthegrove decided enough was enough.

He filed a bill to force the UW to treat students equally during enrollment cutbacks. It’s a matter of principle, Upthegrove says, a blow for math students everywhere.

We’re not immune to the appeal of his crusade. Editorial writers, by and large, are not known for their athletic prowess. No one offered us a full ride for our dribbling skills, and it hasn’t escape our notice that high school baseball stories often get better play than, say, our keen insights into the state’s structural deficit.

So, no, we’re not shills for the jock lobby. But we have to say: Upthegrove should butt out.

Lawmakers trying to micromanage university admissions from Olympia are akin to citizens assuming they can balance the state budget by zeroing out the line item called "fat." Such matters are never as simple as they seem.

The seven student athletes were sought out by coaches and asked to enroll. In one case, a student had even signed a letter of intent. University officials quite rightly felt they had an obligation to those students, who probably turned down other offers to attend the UW.

And athletes weren’t the only ones granted exceptions. A greater number – about 26 students – were young teens who skipped high school to enroll in UW’s gifted program and community college students ready to earn degrees in electrical engineering and computer science.

Upthegrove has no problem with admitting the future engineers and computer scientists, which helps UW meet state mandates to churn out more degrees in high-demand fields. But he can’t see making any other exceptions.

That means – without the exception – those 14- and 15-year-olds who enrolled last fall in a transition program with the expectation that they would move into college coursework this spring would have nowhere to go.

Brainy kids probably weren’t in Upthegrove’s sights when he took aim at the UW, but they would get hit nonetheless. Meddling often produces unintended consequences. Lawmakers should leave college admissions to the professionals who know these students and their situations far better.

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