Divya Patodia is a third-year social science student currently finishing her second term as a science faculty soph. She won the Soph of the Year award for London Hall last year, and was nominated again this year. But Patodia will not be returning as a soph next year—in fact, she didn’t even get an interview.
What Patodia didn’t know when she handed in her initial application was that, unbeknownst to the sophing community, the Orientation Planning Committee had radically overhauled the soph selection process. Whereas in years past the sophing leadership teams evaluated named applications of prospective sophs from their own faculties, applications this year were anonymous and distributed randomly throughout the faculties. This was done to address frequent complaints of rampant favourtism throughout every level of soph hiring. Each application was scored out of 40 marks, and a pre-determined number of interviews were awarded to the top-scoring applicants in each faculty.
Patodia, however, took issue with the revamped application questions, which she charged with being both irrelevant and not reflective of qualities needed in a good soph. Questions focused on relaying the values of the orientation program, the values of volunteering and the outcome expected from members of the O-Week program. The problem, according to Patodia, is that most of the questions had “correct” answers that could simply be copied out of the sophing contract, or even from a Google search.
“I think the new system screwed up. [Instead of asking qualitative questions] that can actually help you get to know an applicant, they asked questions where all they were really looking for was for you to copy directly out of the sophing contract,” Patodia said.
“Also, [dispersing] all the applications throughout random faculties was a mistake. Each team has their own traditions, and each team knows what it takes to be on that faculty team—OPC shouldn’t have taken away soph leadership teams’ ability to make those kinds of calls.”
Particular controversy surrounds two questions on the application that ask applicants to name “up to 6 specific learning and development outcomes” and “up to 10 different examples of soph behaviours […] deemed inappropriate.” According to Michael Zawalsky, president of the Undergraduate Engineering Society, these questions were misleading in that they were actually marked out of six and 10 respectively. So while the questions said to list “up to” a certain number of examples and implied an applicant would not be penalized for providing less than the maximum, such was not the case. On an application marked out of 40, this could mean the difference between getting an interview and being rejected.
“There was a total misalignment between how the questions were phrased on the application. It’s an instance of poor communication, where people aren’t being evaluated in the way they’re being told they’re being evaluated,” Zawalsky argued.
Fearnall, however, said the question was intentionally phrased as such to obtain a measure of applicants’ dedication.
“The intent of using the “up to” phrasing was to test an applicant’s willingness to go above and beyond to identify resources for first-years. The thinking was that if an applicant identified the maximum number of resources in an application, then they would also do the same for a first-year during O-Week,” Fearnall said.
Zawalsky also attacked OPC’s decision to hide the change from the sophing community until after applications were already submitted. This was done to prevent head sophs from giving their friends code words that could be used to circumvent the system.
“Previously, engineering has never cut anyone prior to an interview, so the application has never really been taken into account. You have a lot of returning sophs who assumed the system would remain the same and treated it like a bit of a joke,” he explained.
“In turn, this led to some cuts that we found very undesirable and unfair when considering those people’s merits.”
Fearnall, however, was unsympathetic to those who made light of the initial application process.
“It was posted very clearly on the top of the form that applications were to be taken seriously and that they would be used in the evaluation of the candidate. I have a little bit of trouble with those who say they weren’t informed the application would be taken seriously,” he said. This was in reference to a clause on the form reading “applicants will be short-listed based on quality of these applications.”
Fearnall also stressed how important it was to eliminate bias in the selection process.
“I think what people forget is there’s so many students who felt unfairly treated by the Orientation Week hiring process in the past, and we have an obligation to stand up for them. At this point, we know they’re right—they were mistreated in the past and we have to do something. There are 30,000 students across this campus and we have a duty to represent each and every of them.”