To portray the school’s diverse enrollment, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s admissions department dramatically altered a photo on a brochure cover.
The original photo, depicting a crowd of white students at a football game, was doctored by adding black student Diallo Shabazz, a Madison senior.
Robert Seltzer, the school’s undergraduate admissions director, said his office spent the summer looking for pictures representing the school’s diversity. When it didn’t find one, Seltzer gave Al Friedman, university publications director, the go-ahead to alter the photo.
“We did it in this one instance, and it really was an error in judgement,” Friedman said.
The Daily Cardinal, a Madison student-run newspaper independent of the university, reported the story Tuesday after the sister of reporter Anna Gould noticed there was a glare on Shabazz’s face but not the others.
The Cardinal investigated by looking at Madison’s communications Web site for help. There, they were able to find the source photos, both taken by Madison media specialist Jeff Miller.
The photo of the football fans was taken at the 1993 Rose Bowl. The other was a picture of Shabazz during Wisconsin Welcome Week 1994.
“It was just a matter of digging,” said Andrew Wallmeyer, Daily Cardinal editor.
A freshman at the time the photo was taken, Shabazz said he knew the photo was altered because he had never been to the Rose Bowl or a Badger football game, according to the Cardinal story.
Both Seltzer and Friedman said they regret doctoring the photo, and the ethical issues surrounding the alteration were not a concern at the time.
The ethical issues did concern Miller, who asserted in the original Cardinal article that the retouched photo undermined his credibility as a photographer.
According to the article, Miller said, “In this particular incident, I do not have any knowledge or awareness of this happening. (University communications) do not alter the content of our photos.”
Other photographs were considered for the brochure, but none embodied the “spirit” the admissions office was looking for, the article said.
Wallmeyer contends diversity at the Madison campus is a difficult issue to discuss or report on, and the Daily Cardinal story addresses the problem.
“This story really illustrates one facet of the problem with diversity on campus,” he said.
Wallmeyer added the best thing about breaking the story was that it put campus diversity in the spotlight.
Madison Director of Communications Patrick Strickler is optimistic the university will handle the situation as well as can be expected.
“It’s been a tough two days here, but I think the university stood up to its mistake and admitted it.”
School officials announced today that it will reprint the admissions brochures, which will take about two weeks. The school will also send a letter with each brochure explaining their course of action.
The brochures will be reprinted “to demonstrate the importance on doing things right,” Strickler said. “All we can do is move forward here.”
University of Minnesota admissions director Wayne Sigler refused to comment out of courtesy for another admissions department.
Mike Oakes welcomes comments at [email protected]