Think you have what it takes to be an Anteater? Ha ha! Wrong answer!

A university sent letters of admissions to more kids than it actually wanted to admit, calculating that a lot of them wouldn’t come. This happens all the time.

Photo: USGS. Public Domain.

U.C. Irvine, from a USGS satellite. Seems spacious.

If a school gets too many students, it may scramble to shoehorn in the extras. Dorm rooms that were formerly doubles become triples, don’t ask us how we know. More teaching assistants are hired.

Or it may decide, as U.C. Irvine recently did, faced with 500 more new students than it had planned on, to get mean and come up with excuses to disinvite many of those students it had just sent welcoming letters to.

UCI did this two months before the start of school, when kids it had accepted had already started making plans and had turned down other schools and offers of financial aid.

“You didn’t send all your final transcripts, so you can’t come.” “Yeah, you sent your transcripts, but not soon enough. Don’t bother showing up.” “We didn’t like your history grade last semester, so we changed our minds.”

For the most part the reasons given in the fuck-off-and-die letters were “either minor or bogus — or… no reason at all,” as the L.A. Times wrote. A campus spokesman admitted that they were being more exacting than usual because of their unanticipated popularity. The Times profiled Ashley Gonzalez, an 18-year-old who’d expected to be the first in her family to go to college, and who was disinvited on the grounds that UCI hadn’t received one of two transcripts. Gonzalez and her mother say both transcripts were mailed in the same envelope.

The Times interviewed another student who didn’t give his full name in case it jeopardized his appeal – straight out of four years in the Marine Corps and planning a neurobiology major, the 22-year-old had his admission revoked, and was told it was because he’d violated a freshman admission requirement. Which one? They wouldn’t say. When he’d gotten the first letter welcoming him to UCI, he’d turned down two other U.C. campuses, one of which had offered him a $30,000 scholarship.

Photo: Pete Souza. https://www.flickr.com/photos/obamawhitehouse/14992319139/ Public domain.

Studying UCI’s “Rip ’em, Anteaters” hand sign in 2014, prior to commencement.

There was an uproar, in traditional and social media. Disinvited applicants were shocked and outraged/despairing. Parents were furious in defense of their cubs. Current students and alumni rose up in protest. (“We are so sorry that UCI admin has decided to ruin students lives…”)

Then came this message, from Vice Chancellor Thomas A. Parham:

Dear Prospective Anteater:

You recently received a letter from our admissions team regarding your status at the University of California, Irvine. I understand that the notification may have been disappointing and frightening, so I wanted to take a moment to explain our decision-making process, help you respond, and acknowledge our missteps.

This year, UCI experienced unprecedented demand from students eager to join the Anteater family. We received more than 104,000 applications – more than all but two colleges nationwide – and the number of students intending to register for fall classes was higher than to be expected. You are to be once again congratulated for your acceptance into one of the world’s premier universities.

Acceptance into all University of California campuses is provisional, contingent on meeting the contractual terms and conditions that were clearly outlined in your original admissions offer. This includes submitting all academic materials such as transcripts and test scores by the agreed-upon deadline, upholding strong academic performance throughout the senior year of high school that meets agreed upon thresholds, and having no discrepancies between the grades and courses you reported on your application and what we see once we review your official final transcript.

Every year, we notify students who are not in compliance with these terms and conditions. And, every year, there are students who did not comply for legitimate reasons. In some cases, the actions which result in an offer being rescinded occur through no fault of the student…. For those cases, we have an appeal process outlined on our website… If you believe that you received a withdrawal notification in error, or you have legitimate reasons for not complying with the acceptance agreement, I urge you to appeal. For those of you who already submitted an appeal, we are reviewing them as quickly as possible and we thank you for your patience as we work through the files we are reviewing.

Photo: Brian Gratwicke. Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license.

I feel totes qualified to be an Anteater. (Northern Tamandua, Tamandua mexicana).

We heard from some students that this year’s process was too stringent and our customer-service approach needs improvement. I acknowledge that we took a harder line on the terms and conditions this year and we could have managed that process with greater care, sensitivity, and clarity about available options. Also contributing to the angst many of you have experienced is our traditional communication and outdated telephone systems that did not serve us well in this circumstance. For those who felt ignored or mistreated, I sincerely apologize.

We are making every effort to do better, immediately. I have directed the admissions team to step up the personal outreach to notified students. We’re bringing in more people to review appeals and answer phones. We are committed to correcting any errors swiftly and providing the help you need in an empathetic and understanding way.

In closing, there is one point that I want to make clear: All accepted students who meet the terms and conditions of the admissions offer will be welcomed into the Anteater Family. No acceptance will be withdrawn due to over-enrollment, despite external reports to the contrary.

We are dedicated to providing outstanding educational opportunities to as many qualified students as possible, and strive to ensure Anteaters have a successful and positive experience on campus and in the classroom.

By now you will have noticed that students at UCI are called Anteaters. This is a charming choice, in part derived from an anteater character in the comic strip B.C., also the source of the exclamation of “Zot!” that survives at UCI.

But addressing students worried they’ve just lost out on college as “Prospective Anteater” and chortling about the “Anteater family” is adding insult to injury. So is congratulating them on having been accepted when they’ve now been rejected.

Photo: Mateus Hidalgo.  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Brazil license.

When I got the second letter, I just went to bed and cried and cried. (Giant Anteater, Myrmecophaga tridactyla.)

Which fits, because it’s a bad apology. Long and condescending, it’s full of nothing-to-see-here, this-is-what-we-always-do language. Not until the fifth paragraph does Parham concede any fault, and then he quickly blames the phone system. “For those who felt ignored or mistreated, I sincerely apologize” is a bureaucratic way to express a vile sorry-if. It’s all about those FEELINGS, not about anyone actually being ignored or mistreated.

The following two paragraphs are some improvement, especially the promise that no one will be turned away because of over-enrollment. But by this time, prospective Anteaters are liable to feel… untrusting.

Vice Chancellor Parham’s letter didn’t put out the fire. The following week Chancellor Howard Gillman spoke up.

The stories of our students whose college dreams were crushed by our decision to withdraw admissions to hundreds of students are heartbreaking. And unacceptable.

…We are a university recognized for advancing the American dream, not impeding it. This situation is rocking us to our core because it is fundamentally misaligned with our values.

I must step in and change our direction. Effective immediately, all students who received provisional acceptances into UCI will be fully admitted, except those whose transcripts clearly indicate that they did not meet our academic standards. Those standards are: no D’s or F’s their senior year; a senior-year grade point average of at least 3.0; completion of all A-G requirements outlined by the University of California; and required test scores as indicated on the students’ admission portals.

Photo: Sinara Conessa. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 https://www.flickr.com/photos/sinara06/6147003159/ Generic license.

Then I got mad. (Southern Tamandua, Tamandua tetradactyla.)

Even for students whose transcripts show that these requirements were not met, we will establish an expedited process to allow students to make the case for extenuating circumstances, and otherwise will work with students to identify other possible pathways into the university.

We’re trying to understand how we underestimated the number of students who planned to enroll this fall. We’re also trying to understand why we chose to notify students in an insensitive way or couldn’t answer their telephone calls adequately. I intend to find out so this will never happen again. I directed our internal auditor to review the admissions process and suggest areas for improvement. I plan to have a preliminary report within 60 days.

In closing, the students and their families have my personal, sincerest apology. We should not have treated you this way over a missed deadline.

Image: J. G. Keulemans. Public domain.

They said my admission was revoked because I hadn’t documented that I eat ants. But I submitted a video of me eating ants, and they said the format was wrong! I paid my deposit in ants! I requested the all-ants meal plan!

We will welcome all of our wonderful students who worked so hard to satisfy the requirements for UCI admission, and as we move forward we will do everything we can to earn the trust and loyalty of our community.

Much better. Still annoying. Gillman will “step in” and come to the rescue! (Where were you before, Chancellor?) It’s good he omitted the rah-rah about the Anteater family.

Hundreds of the accepted-then-rejected students have already been re-accepted. We hope Gonzalez and the Marine are among them.

(Thank you to Kali I., and to Daniel S., for alerting SorryWatch to this story.)

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3 Responses to Think you have what it takes to be an Anteater? Ha ha! Wrong answer!

  1. S. McC says:

    When I read “Anteaters” in the letter, I thought it was a Sorrywatch editorial bit of humor. I apologize profoundly to Sorrywatch, and to Sumac, and will never make such a hasty assumption again.

    In my defense (I know, I know, bad form, and I was off to such a good start) I simply could not comprehend that any college admissions letter, on such a serious subject, would use a school nickname so flippantly!!!! I plead lack of imagination.

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