Officials of the University of Wisconsin admitted today that in an effort to show that the university is culturally diverse they inserted the face of a black student into a crowd of white football fans pictured on the cover of next year's undergraduate application.
The photo doctoring came to light Tuesday when a reporter at the Daily Cardinal, a student newspaper at the university in Madison, noticed that the sun was shining brightly on black student Diallo Shabazz's face but not on the sea of white faces pictured around him at a 1993 Badgers football game.
"I thought something looked funny," sophomore Anna Gould said in a telephone interview. "It looked like the sun was gleaming off his face and everyone else was in the shade."
Paul Barrows, vice chancellor for student affairs, said that admissions officials took Shabazz's image from a layout of 1994 Welcome Week activities and digitally inserted it into the admissions booklet cover in a misguided effort to illustrate the university's diversity.
"This was an error in judgment that shouldn't have happened," Barrows said. He said admissions director Rob Seltzer, who approved altering the photo, and university publications director Al Friedman had publicly apologized to Shabazz and the community.
To make things worse for embarrassed university officials, Shabazz, who is now a senior, happens to be a prominent African American student activist who has never attended a UW football game and is deeply involved in efforts to promote campus diversity.
Barrows said Shabazz is a student leader in a cultural enrichment program that Barrows heads, in which minority ninth graders from Milwaukee and other inner cities spend a summer at the Madison campus. If the students stay with the Upward Bound-like program through high school, they receive five-year, tuition-free scholarships to the university.
Barrows said that several months ago Seltzer gave him a draft copy of the admissions packet with student football fans pictured on the cover. He said that when he saw all of the fans were white, he told Seltzer: "You can do better than that, Rob. Find something more diverse."
Seltzer said his office spent the summer searching for cover photos that would illustrate greater diversity at UW, where minorities are 10 percent of the 40,000 students enrolled. When he could not find one, he approved adding Shabazz's photo to the crowd scene and Friedman's office created the image for the cover. Barrows said that as soon as he saw the doctored photo he knew it was fake because Shabazz is a close friend of his and he knew the black senior had never been to a Badgers football game.
"I ran to Diallo immediately and apologized," Barrows said. "I was appalled."
Barrows said the university is trying to recall from prospective students as many of the 55,000 mailed admissions forms as possible and is printing a new cover. He said no disciplinary action is required because the two officials admitted their mistake and apologized.
Shabazz told the Wisconsin State Journal he hopes the admissions office will now work with minority students to recruit more students of color. "It's a symptom of a much larger problem," he said. "Diversity on this campus is not really being dealt with."
Barrows said it was crucial for the university to recall the faked admissions packets quickly "because we are in the heat of a very competitive admissions cycle and I don't want to lose any time."