High-profile admissions case sparks policy evaluation

By Christine DiGangi and Samuel Weigley

The DePauw, DePauw U. via UWIRE

DePauw U. has indefinitely deferred the admission of a student who intended to enroll this fall. During the last week of July, DePauw announced that Robert Kitzinger, 19, of Carmel, Ind. would not join the class of 2014 this semester.

Students are seldom exposed to the complicated college admissions processes. Students receive numerous envelopes – some big, some small, and of course, that big black one from DePauw – and once deposits are sent in, the applications and admissions processes appears to be a black-and-white matter. At face value, students get in or they don’t. It seems simple.

But in the occasion that an admitted student fails to remain in good standing at his or her high school after expressing intent to enroll at a college, the lines between acceptance and rejection blur to gray.

Kitzinger, who intended to play basketball at DePauw, was expelled from Carmel High School along with three other young men. In February, news emerged that the four were facing hazing allegations following incidents which occurred among members of the high school’s basketball team. On May 17, the men turned themselves in to the Hamilton County Jail and were released on bail 12 hours later. Kitzinger pleaded not guilty to charges of misdemeanor counts of battery and criminal recklessness, and his criminal trial is scheduled for Sept. 17.

Until the case is resolved, regardless of the results it yields, DePauw’s decision-making process remains in limbo. As an outside party interested in the case, DePauw is not privy to the Carmel Police Department’s investigation and has little access to information about it.

“It’s been very, very hard for us,” said President Brian Casey. “We’re dealing with imperfect information. … We’re waiting for the totality of the situation to be settled.”

In the meantime, Casey said he now recognizes the need to clarify admissions processes, despite the rarity of a situation like Kitzinger’s.

Typically, when a student’s good standing falters – whether it be expulsion, suspension or poor academic performance – after being accepted to DePauw but prior to enrollment, the admission office receives a “change in status” report from a high school. Such a report is grounds for the university to re-evaulate a student’s admission, but there are no precedents at DePauw in institutional memory for the situation with which it is currently dealing.

“It had kind of rumbled up in the media,” Casey said. “We then knew we had to try to understand what was going on.”

Easier said than done. Kitzinger’s attorneys requested a gag order on the case, which restricts availability of public information, as well as a change of the trial’s venue out of concern that media coverage could hinder Kitzinger’s chances of receiving a fair trial, according to a July 27 article in the Indianapolis Star.

Dan Meyer, vice president of Admission and Financial Aid, said that, in his 30-plus years as an admissions administrator, he has never encountered a case like this.

“I can think of about three students, after the fact, after they’ve been admitted, maybe even after they’ve paid an acceptance deposit, have been suspended,” Meyer said. “Each one of those are handled kind of on an individual basis, depending on the circumstance.”

The circumstance is exactly what DePauw is waiting to be clarified. Casey said, since Kitzinger’s admission is a hot topic among his cabinet, it sparked a re-evaluation of DePauw’s policies.

“It’s not something that keeps me awake at night,” Meyer said. “But I do think it is something that at least merits some consideration internally as we move forward.”

With Kitzinger’s criminal trial approaching, a change of venue has not yet been granted, and there are reports that a plea bargain may be in the pipeline.

“What ought we do in these situations?” Casey said. “Should there be a framework that guides us? Having gone through it, the answer is clearly yes. Oh, yes.”

For a timeline of the university’s action in the Robert Kiztinger case, click here.

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