When a student petition successfully led to the firing of a New York University chemistry professor, there were mixed responses amongst students, educators and administrators. An incident like this, where students held enough power to demand such a change, would not have happened 50 years ago. While there are many similarities between being a student today and being a student in the past — the same struggles of fitting in, first relationships, difficult academics and so on exist — there are also significant differences. The time that we live in dictates what it means to be a college student.
Last January, University of California President Janet Napolitano tasked the University of California’s Academic Senate with “exam[ining] the University’s current use of standardized testing for admission and consider[ing] whether the University and its students are best served by UC’s current testing practices, a modification of current practices, another testing approach, or the elimination of testing.” Institutions across the country were moving away from requiring standardized tests for admissions, so it came as no surprise that the UC system would evaluate the merit of making the submission of standardized tests optional (a policy often referred to as test-optional). What they weren’t prepared for was the announcement of the Operation Varsity Blues admissions scandal two months later, which catapulted conversations regarding admissions into the national spotlight. Now more than ever, people wanted to know whether the UC system, which includes more than 280,000 students, would endorse becoming test-optional. While the panel convened by the UC Academic Senate worked, other universities began to come forward with decisions of their own regarding standardized testing. The National Center for Fair and Open Testing announced that over 47 new schools had transitioned to test-optional policies raising the total number to over 1,000 institutions in 2019.