Everyone is entitled to screw up occasionally.  The measure of a person’s character is not that they never make mistakes, but rather how they deal with their mistakes.


That’s advice I’ve found myself giving my students numerous times through the years.  Is it true for institutions as well as individuals?


Yesterday morning one of my seniors stopped me, bewildered by an e-mail he had received the previous evening.  The e-mail congratulated him on his acceptance to the University of California at Santa Cruz and invited him to a special reception for accepted students in the D.C. area at the end of March.


My student found two things confusing.  The first was that the e-mail had been sent to a personal e-mail account different from the school e-mail he uses for all college-related communications. Even more confusing was the fact that he hadn’t applied to Santa Cruz.   


I also found that odd.  My first thought was that he had applied to Berkeley or another branch of the University of California and inadvertently listed Santa Cruz as well when he completed the application used in common by all the UC schools. 


I also asked him if there was a chance that one of his friends was playing a prank on him.  About ten years one of my students came into my office with a letter from the University of the South, better known as Sewanee, announcing that he was the recipient of the “Tennessee Williams Scholarship.”  I didn’t react, for reasons that will become apparent, until he asked, “Could this be real?”


I responded, “What’s today’s date?”  When he answered that it was April 1st, I asked him if the date had any significance. He observed that it was April Fools’ Day, then a look of recognition crossed his face.  He had just figured out what I already knew, that several of his buddies had gone to the trouble of downloading Sewanee letterhead and composing the scholarship letter.  I had refused their request to be in on the joke.


The Santa Cruz e-mail seemed different, so I asked the student to forward it to me.  Several hours later, there was a post on the NACAC Exchange from a counselor at a D.C.-area school stating that a couple of his students had received the same e-mail.  I replied that I had a student as well, and when I returned from lunch had a voice mail from Nick Anderson at the Washington Post, who was trying to track down the story. 


Once my student forwarded me a copy of the e-mail, it looked legit, signed by the person who is the East Coast rep for UC-Santa Cruz, so I e-mailed her, asking if she was aware of the situation.  A short time later she responded that due to human error the e-mail that was supposed to go out to accepted students instead was sent to the same group of students invited last fall to an area reception.  The Post article (in the spirit of full disclosure, I am quoted despite not really having anything to contribute) suggests that 4000 students received the incorrect e-mail.  A corrective e-mail was sent out yesterday afternoon.


These kinds of mistakes happen.  It is not comparable, but years ago during my admissions days I had responsibility for a newsletter that was sent to our entire prospect list.  I spent hours writing, editing, and proofreading, but when the newsletter came out I found one typo.  I had spelled my own name wrong.  Not long afterward, I had the opportunity to do a brewery tour at the Pabst brewery in Milwaukee.  During the after-tour tasting session I was reading the fancy brochure they gave us and immediately noticed a typo—in one place they had renamed Pabst Blue Ribbon as “Past Blue Ribbon.”  When I pointed it out, the Pabst person told me they had just ordered 500,000 copies of the brochure.


As a secondary school Director of Admissions, my secretary sent a letter to the son of the Parents Association President from me saying Dear Jimmy, when his name was Timmy.  I sent a handwritten apology saying that I didn’t want them to think my office didn’t know the difference between a “J” and a “T” and signed it “Tim Tump.”   


I feel bad for any students who received false hope and bad for the folks at Santa Cruz.  This is not an example of the kind of admissions gamesmanship that this blog finds so objectionable, but rather an honest mistake.  And from what I can tell, UC-Santa Cruz has handled this about as well as possible.  I will continue to wear the Zen Banana Slug hat I bought years ago on a campus visit to bring home to my children (and then decided to keep for myself) with pride.


ECA will be back next week with the final installment of the three-part series inspired by the release of the “Turning the Tide” report.  A couple of notes:


            --The last post was selected by Inside Higher Ed earlier this week as an “Around the Web” selection.  We’re always glad to be included on that list.


            --For those who love admissions trivia, I discovered last week that Beth Behrs, the blonde star of the CBS sitcom, “Two Broke Girls,” is the daughter of an admissions veteran.  Her father is the Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management at Clarion University in Pennsylvania.  I met him when he was at Lynchburg College in Virginia a number of years ago.