“We Messed Up” is a good start to an apology

Last week, Tulane Technology Services sent an email to 130 high school students who’d applied to Tulane Early Decision, congratulating them on their admission.


Unfortunately, the email was sent in error.


You have to pity the poor students, who loved Tulane enough to apply Early Decision, who had at least a couple of hours of telling everybody and celebrating and frolicking before the second email arrived, saying, essentially, “oops.”

happy diverse Tulane students, taunting you

Here is that email, from director of admissions Jeff Schiffman (who was only promoted to the job five months ago — nice trial by fire!). He then posted the apology to his blog. As these things go, it is pretty good.

We Messed Up. 

One thing we pride ourselves here in the Office of Admission is being a compassionate place. I’ve written frequently before about anxietylove, and the fact that it’s all going to be okay in the end.

Yesterday, we made a mistake that goes against all of those ideas of compassion. A mistake that has created such an immense sense of anxiety for a population of students who want to go to Tulane more than anything else in the world.

Around 2:00pm yesterday, an email from Tulane Technology Services was sent to 130 Early Decision applicants. The email welcomed them to the Tulane family and gave them a Tulane email address. While we are currently working on figuring out why and how this happened, for those 130 students, that does not matter. We’ve created an anxiety so deep for this group that there really aren’t words to describe it. I’ll own up to it right now.

The reality is that we did not have final decisions for those 130 students yet. For a few hours, they had notification from Tulane that they had been admitted before we sent a email to let them know we did not have a final decision and to disregard the tech services email. I am sure many celebrated and posted on social media about it, as any admitted student should.

What Tulane has done is inexcusable and I offer those students, their families, their high school counselors and their communities a heartfelt apology. Tulane can do better and we will.

Many people have told me that we should just admit that population as it’s the right thing to do. In a perfect world, that would be true. But admitting an additional 130 students is much easier said than done and greatly throws off the size of the class. It simply can’t be done. We sent final decisions to our Early Decisions applicants by midnight on December 15th.

Please know I am here to speak with each of you who was affected by this. You can email me any time at jschiffm@tulane.edu. I can’t say “I know what you’re going through,” because I do not. All I can offer is a an apology.

Life is so much about how you respond (not react) in situations like this. It is my hope that we learn from this. We have really messed this one up, and for that, I offer you my deepest apology.

(Belatedly, it seems that what happened was a coding mistake. According to the New York Times, the school’s department of Technology Services, using new software, sent a message meant for students who’d been offered and accepted admission to those who’d been deferred.)

Simulation of Tulane study group that you are not in

Schiffman’s apology is good because it’s not about HIM; it focuses on the the pain, sorrow and anger of those who received the email. It owns the error; it says “we made a mistake” rather than “mistakes were made.” And it’s honest; it takes the difficult step of saying “we can’t fix this by offering all 130 students offers of admission.” His public sharing of his contact information is an important gesture, too.

What this apology lacks is clarity about what exactly happened and how the university will ensure it won’t happen again. But I think those things were sacrificed in the need to respond to the crisis immediately. I’m going to give Tulane the benefit of the doubt and hope that a) Schiffman has been explaining the computer issue to individual callers and b) there will be an additional blog post that clarifies and expands on the first one. That will turn a good apology into an excellent one.

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3 Responses to “We Messed Up” is a good start to an apology

  1. Anita Lynn Brady says:

    I wonder how many no-shows and drop-outs happen in each “class”. I would be willing to bet that this 130+ could be admitted with no actual negative effect in the class size.

    • sumac says:

      Well, I suspect that these students were all or almost all applying for Tulane’s Honors Program, which takes about 10% of the students admitted. They are encouraged to live in specific dorms, with faculty in residence, special advising, and special round tables (seminars).

      Tulane has a student body of around 6,700, and I think you’re right that the 130+ could easily be absorbed into that number. But the Honors Program, being so much smaller (and having dedicated living space) couldn’t do it so easily.

  2. Erica Schiff says:

    Something like this happened to me when I was applying for law school. I was fortunate, in that the follow-up email notifying me that no, I had NOT been offered a full scholarship to a top-tier law school came so quickly that by the time I checked my email I received both the congratulations and the correction at the same time. I don’t recall quite what the email said, but it was nowhere near as nice as Tulane.

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