Whatever happened to comedian Steve Martin’s career?  Last week I had the television on, barely paying attention, until I saw an ad that featured a guy who looked a lot like, maybe even exactly like, Steve Martin.  At first I thought that the ad, promoting a new online class on comedy to be taught by none other than Steve Martin, was a comedy bit, but I never saw a punch line, so either the ad is serious or else the humor was so subtle I missed it.  The company promoting the course, Master Class, looks legit, offering online courses taught by celebrities ranging from cooking taught by Gordon Ramsey to tennis taught by Serena Williams, and now comedy taught by Steve Martin.


We all know that fame and celebrity are fleeting, that in the age of YouTube and social media Andy Warhol’s “15 minutes of fame” may last three minutes and 48 seconds.  One minute you’re the next big thing, playing a banjo and cracking jokes with an arrow through your head, then hosting Saturday Night Live and starring in serious films, and before you know it you are teaching an online class on comedy.  What’s left, being in the cast of Celebrity Apprentice or Dancing With the Stars?


If indeed Steve Martin’s career is in decline, it may have started with the movie, “The Jerk.”  In the most famous scene from that movie, he announced with exuberance that “The new phone book is here!  The new phone book is here!” It is out of homage to that scene that I devote this post to announcing that “The new SPGP is here! The new SPGP is here!”


A little over a year ago NACAC appointed a Steering Committee on Admission Practices to review and revise the organization’s Statement of Principles of Good Practice.  The Steering Committee consists of nineteen members and is chaired by Todd Rinehart from the University of Denver, past chair of the National Admission Practices committee.  (In the interest of full disclosure, I am a member of the Steering committee.)  If Master Class decides to offer a course on the SPGP, Todd would be the ideal choice to teach it.


The Steering Committee/Commission approach is one NACAC has used in dealing with other big issues (Bill Fitzsimmons at Harvard chaired a commission on testing ten years ago, and Phil Ballenger from the University of Washington chaired a commission looking into international recruiting issues about five years ago) and in my opinion represents NACAC at its best, bringing multiple respected voices together and giving them time to work on issues that are challenging and controversial.


The Steering Committee on Admission Practices was charged with looking at the SPGP with a fresh set of eyes, including:


--engaging a cross-section of NACAC members in discussion about the document and what it should represent;


--simplifying the document and modernizing its language:


--adapting the SPGP so that it sets ethical standards for the changing educational landscape of college admission.


What is that changing landscape?  It can be hard to define, although as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said about pornography, we know it when we see it.  It is an outgrowth of the tough market conditions that many colleges and universities find themselves in and the pressure on admissions offices to be marketers and salesmen rather than educational counselors. 


It also reflects an increasing divide between the college and secondary sides of our profession.  That shows itself in different answers for the sentence completion, “Why doesn’t NACAC…?”  Secondary school counselors are more inclined to finish that question with a request to legislate or regulate [insert admission practice or enrollment strategy], while colleges’ answers tend to congregate around “leave us alone”? 


The Steering Committee has developed a working draft of the new document, and has asked for feedback from individual members by April 28.  Presentations about the document and the Steering Committee process will be featured at affiliate conferences throughout the Spring.  I will be presenting next week with Lou Hirsh (current National AP Chair who has done much of the writing of the new document) at the Potomac and Chesapeake conference in Williamsburg.


It is my plan to do a series of blog posts (interspersed with posts on other topics) on the new document and some of the ethical issues related to it, but here are some quick thoughts.


The proposed SPGP is simpler, if not shorter.  It addresses issues involving transfer admission, international recruitment, and housing deposits in a way the previous document didn’t.


The new document is built around ethical principles, at least partly due to my influence.  I have argued before that the SPGP had a lot of rules and very few principles.  The new document is organized around ethical principles including truthfulness, transparency, confidentiality, professional conduct (engaging in respectful discourse and avoiding conflict of interest), and protecting the best interests of students.  Under each broad principle is a section called “Implementation” which includes many of the specific rules that have been part of the SPGP.


The other piece in the proposed SPGP is a section devoted to the responsible practice of college admission, covering topics such as application plans, admission cycle dates and deadlines, Wait Lists, transfer admission, and the use of international agents for recruitment purposes.  The document also includes a glossary defining admission terms.


The other significant change is that the new SPGP eliminates the distinction between mandatory practices and best practices.  Everything included in the new document will be considered mandatory and subject to enforcement.  One early Steering Committee discussion was about whether NACAC should even try to enforce ethical practices, given that many other professional associations have ethics statements that are aspirational but not enforced.  There was a strong consensus among committee members and affiliate leaders that NACAC should continue to enforce its ethical principles.


Obviously attempting to come to agreement on the principles guiding the day-to-day practice of college admission is a challenging process, and all of us may not agree on what’s included or what’s omitted.  I’m proud of the work that the Steering Committee has done, and proud of the objective to create a document that protects both students and institutions and also makes a statement about what our profession stands for.  I urge you to read the draft and submit your comments by April 28.