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No Surprises as Robert Day Scholars Program Enters Second Year

February 6, 2009

by Wyatt MacKenzie
No Surprises as Robert Day Scholars Program Enters Second Year

Editor's Note: Wyatt is one of our three new Forum Fellows this semester. A former writer for both the Port Side and the Independent, Wyatt plans to provide more campus news analysis to our site.

With application season in full swing, there’s plenty of buzz about the Robert Day Scholars program: ‘a finance program in the liberal arts tradition.’ If you’re not sure what that means, it’s a big old twenty thousand dollar scholarship endowed alongside the Robert Day School of Economics and Finance. Last year Day’s monstrous two hundred million dollar gift shook things up on campus, bringing furor from some quarters and glee from others. Likewise, the Scholars program has proven controversial, drawing criticism from one kind of student in particular. The kind who didn’t get in.

With students as competitive and driven as CMC’s, the exceptionally rigorous application process for the Day scholarship naturally brought out the kind of tensions that even prestigious internships don’t.Applicants offer up the typical resumes and essays for a process culminating in a boardroom interview. In between however is a ‘leadership assessment.’ This activity is something of a psychological experiment, where applicants are teamed up and observed as they work through a project to see who emerges as a leader and who settles into followership. To many of the program’s critics this embodies their issues with the process, which one described as “pitting top students against each other,” poisoning a normally inclusive environment with a hypercompetitive process and an every man for himself ethos.

If this is just a case of sour grapes, it’s an all too persistent one, and one which seems something of a self-fulfilling prophesy. Whether or not it’s inherently harmful to make tough choices amongst a pool of extremely similar, extremely qualified candidates, the fact that we’re still hearing about it a year later speaks to how it’s worked out.

On the other side of things, the Day Scholars themselves could hardly be happier. Those I spoke to expressed no regrets about the program, and only peripheral awareness of the bitterness some have shown.And what don’t they have to be happy about? The program offers a pile of co-curricular activities, a ton of money, and a personal career services employee. That last one came up right behind the application process in many critics’ complaints, and, unlike the rest of them, seemed to resonate with the average student, although it was emphasized less heavily than the co-curricular activities by those inside the program.

The program and application process are both unchanged for this second year, besides the sort of incremental revisions expected for new scholarship. When asked what, if anything, could or should be changed, critics and Scholars alike had few ideas. The fact of the matter is that a program like the Day scholarship has to draw the line somewhere and, with a relatively opaque application process, seemingly outsized benefits, and few slots, it can’t satisfy everyone.

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