Albany— The Educational Opportunity (EOP Program) at the University at Albany has recently come under heavy fire from the school’s newspaper regarding its treatment of new students, resulting in a slew of mixed, volatile reactions from people both involved in the program and outside of it.
In its Oct. 26 issue, The Albany Student Press (ASP), the school’s student-run newspaper, published an article that called the EOP summer training program “cult-like” and “jarringly repressive.” The EOP program of the State University of New York System provides access to higher education and financial support to students, frequently first-generation, who are economically disadvantaged, and who may not have been able to attend college otherwise. The EOP summer orientation at UAlbany stretches over five weeks, and it is the rules and regulations of this program that would-be EOP students must adhere to that the paper criticized, comparing some of the practices to the hazing that commonly occurs in college fraternities and sororities.
In a document that is distributed to EOP students at the start of the summer program, which the ASP obtained through a freedom of information request, program expectations and strict rules are detailed. Punishments that students incur upon rule breaking are also listed. Included in the contract are consequences known as “room restriction,” in which students are confined to their rooms with no visitors and may only leave for meals and permitted activities such as class, “residential lockdown,” in which all students in the program are confined to their rooms if no one takes responsibility for a rule violation, and “bed rest,” which means that students who fall asleep in class are confined to their rooms for sleep and may not interact with the other students until their Residence Director grants them permission to resume normal activities.
Also described in the document is a strict dress code and cell phone policy. Students in the five-week program run the risk of having their phone confiscated for the duration of the program if an outline of the device is seen in a backpack or pocket. The contract says that 15 to 20 phones on average are confiscated each summer.
“We keep excellent records of all phones confiscated so if you love your phone and will NEED it these five weeks, which we know you will, do not put yourself in a situation where we will have to take if from you, because we will take it from you, no questions asked,” reads the document. The most notable aspect of the summer program is the rule that the students are not permitted to speak to anyone outside of the EOP program, and it’s these rules that the ASP compares to hazing.
“Not only do the EOP’s restrictive policies mirror some common hazing behaviors, but the themes of exclusion and isolation oppose national trends in mainstream education,” read the article.
Stefan Lembo-Stolba, Editor-in-Chief of the ASP and author of the ASP article, told Spotlight News that he wrote the story because he wanted the public to know that a state-funded, public university program was using the strict tactics described in the orientation document.
But, most of the students that the ASP interviewed for the story, some of whom requested anonymity, said that at the end of it all, the tough five weeks brought them closer to each other, and closer to success in college.
“I never saw it as a punishment,” said Aniel Luna, a EOP student and UAlbany junior from the Bronx the ASP interviewed. “I saw it more like they were trying to build us as a family.”
“While we differ with the article’s characterization of the summer program, we believe that the questions raised deserve further scrutiny. Toward this end, the University had already initiated a review of the program’s guidelines and procedures, a review that began two-and-a-half weeks ago,” Karl Luntta, spokesman for the university said in a statement. Luntta also claimed that the EOP program is reviewed every year for administrative purposes such as examining staffing and developing possible program expansions., along with saying that the school also conducts yearly reviews of the summer program via student surveys, he said. But, the article stated that William Hedberg, associate vice president for academic affairs at UAlbany, and supervisor the the EOP director, said in a meeting with the ASP that he had not read the EOP’s summer policies in detail until that meeting.
The SUNY EOP program originated in the late 1960s, according to the official SUNY website. With the goal of giving every student (with the capabilities to do so) the chance to pursue higher education, the 1964 Master Plan of the State University made a commitment to that goal. Three years later, New York State Assemblyman Arthur O. Eve took the goal a step further and developed a bill that provided funding to EOP, funding which is used to give EOP students the materials they need to succeed in college, including textbooks and tutoring programs. Right now, over 40 SUNY schools have EOP programs and the number of graduates from EOP is more than 55,000 according to SUNY. Over a course of six years, according to Luntta, the EOP student graduation rate from the university is 78 percent, as opposed to the graduation rate of non-EOP students, which is currently 10 points lower at 68 percent. This year, 247 students were enrolled in the program, bringing total EOP undergraduate enrollment at UAlbany to 828, according to the university.