On Closer Examination (Cornell Alumni News 9/80)

As anyone who has been reading the education pages of his newspaper must know by now, these are not the happiest of times for the standardized testing industry — witness, for example, the many suits pending against the giant of that industry, the once infallible, Educational Testing Service. This might seem an indelicate moment, therefore, to expose the activities of the university’s Guidance and Testing Center and the director whose work has made him a major fellow traveler of the ETS and the other Big Bad Testers — Prof. Howard G. Andrus, PhD ’51, education.’

However, if this is an exposé — and I suppose it is, because of the hitherto obscure nature of its subject — my intentions are benign. Andrus, who has managed to avoid any major publicity during nearly three decades of highly secretive work, has no reason, except perhaps his natural shyness, to further resist the limelight.

Indeed, this veteran professor is — in this writer’s opinion and that of scores of other Cornellians who have benefited during their undergraduate years from Andrus’s unique guidance and testing service — one of the university’s unsung heroes. Andrus, who turned 65 in July, has been making tentative plans to retire. It is time that both he and the remarkably effective rescue station he quietly developed over the years be given their due. As one of those who was rescued, I am happy to do the honors.

The University Guidance and Testing Center, which occupies a large corporate-style suite of offices on the second floor of Barnes Hall, serves two major functions in the university’s network of student support. One function involves testing and the other involves both testing and guidance. The center dispenses information about, and regularly administers, the myriad types of examinations — such as the Graduate Record Examination and the Management Aptitude Test — required of upperclassmen along with their applications to graduate and professional schools. That much is well known.

What is not so well known — to many undergraduates’ loss — is that the center also functions as a valuable “court of last resort” for students who are having difficulty defining their vocational goals or are experiencing severe problems with their schoolwork.

The dozens of students who weekly seek Andrus’s aid are not a particularly happy lot. Some are in tears. Others, frustrated in previous efforts to obtain adequate guidance from their respective colleges, are openly resentful of what they consider to be their manhandling by an impersonal university. Yet others are virtually catatonic.

After an initial get-acquainted interview, during which the student’s dilemma is calmly analyzed, Andrus selects a personalized battery of tests from among the more than 1,500 in his files.

After the battery has been compiled, and before the student actually sits down for the first testing session, Andrus meets with his “patient” once again to explain the nature of the tests — usually a combination of aptitude, interest, achievement, and personality tests — and why each is being given. This, the director notes, helps to keep the student from trying to fool himself by answering questions according to what he thinks he should be like.

Then the testing, with its attendant joys and traumas, begins.

After the student has turned in his test forms and the center staff has analyzed the results, Andrus summons the student for a series of four to six extended counseling sessions in an attempt to identify career — and academic — alternatives more appropriate to his major interest and aptitude patterns. It is here that Andrus’s seemingly exhaustive knowledge of both the university’s many academic offerings and the “real world’s” myriad vocational and professional offerings is put into play.

Keenly sensitive to the student’s feelings and the magnitude of the decisions he is helping to formulate, Andrus strives to keep a quiet, colloquial tone during these final meetings. He never lectures; he doesn’t argue. He simply suggests — and listens and listens and listens. The student usually does most of the talking.

As one might suspect, the “Andrus process” is time-consuming, with the testing phase lasting from six to as many as twelve hours, and the counseling portion taking between three and six hours. For these services the subject is charged a small flat fee of $30 (the fee is used only to help defray testing costs; Andrus’s counsel is free).

But the “process” doesn’t necessarily end there. Indeed, students find that the director also provides a host of other informal services and favors, such as writing letters of recommendation, helping to plan course programs for future semesters, and meeting with concerned parents when they visit the campus.

When he thinks it would benefit the student, the director will use his considerable influence in the university in support of an advisee in serious academic difficulty — as he once did for me. In fact, I am fairly certain that I would never have graduated from Cornell had not Howard Andrus come to my aid during a particularly tumultuous period of my undergraduate career.

I first walked — stumbled might be a better word — into Howard Andrus’s office in March 1969, after learning of his reputedly wondrous psychometric and counselling powers from one of his many satisfied customers — in this case, my dormitory residence adviser. (Andrus still receives most of his referrals by word of mouth, rather than through formal university channels — which is the way he prefers it.)

I was at my wit’s end. After only one term on the Hill, I was already thoroughly demoralized by a Kafkaesque chain of bureaucratic procedures set in motion by my impetuous decision several months before to transfer from one college, Architecture, Art, and Planning, to another, Arts and Sciences — a process far more complicated than I had anticipated.

Now I found myself serving a “probationary” term of study in the rather chilly academic halfway house with the grimly apt appellation, the Division of Unclassified Students, where I was under pressure to attain a grade point average high enough to mollify the gatekeepers of the College of Arts and Sciences. If I didn’t pass muster I would have no option but to leave the university altogether.

Adding to my tribulations was the fact that I wasn’t sure of exactly what I wanted to concentrate on when and if I was accepted into Arts, much less what sort of career I would pursue. My sense of disorientation was also being heightened daily by the escalating political temperature on campus and the increasingly violent confrontations between the Afro-American Society and the Cornell administration, which would culminate, one month later, in the seizure on Parents’ Weekend of Willard Straight Hall.

Andrus still shakes his head when he recalls those topsy-turvy days.

“You came here as a freshman at the worst possible time,” the soft-spoken super-counselor said in a recent interview in his cozy, plant-filled Barnes Hall office.

The results of the Guilford-Zimmerman Temperament Survey, one of the various standardized tests I waded through after my initial consultation with the “Doctor” (as he is sometimes known), accurately revealed my feverish state of mind at the time. Relative to my norm group, I scored fairly low on the “general activity” index — 37 per cent; extremely low on “emotional stability” — 10 per cent; and “objectivity” — 4. The other scores were less disturbing, if no less intriguing: 50 per cent on “restraint,” 70 on “ascendence,” 50 on “social interest,” and 92 on “introspectiveness.”

Put very crudely, I was an emotionally unstable, deeply introspective, and somewhat lethargic elitist with little if any capacity for objectivity — qualities I shared with many of my spaced-out contemporaries.

I must say that none of these scores really surprised me — nevertheless, it was sobering to see my major personal attributes neatly quantified and listed on one of the test results spread before me.

Don’t worry, Andrus assured me with a smile. “You just have to do a little growing up.”

On the other hand, my various aptitude test scores confirmed that I had indeed made the correct decision in transferring out of Architecture — my 5 per cent score on the index for spatial reasoning, was fairly strong proof of that — and orienting myself toward liberal arts, where tests indicated my strong verbal skills would make me a natural English or history major. (I later chose history.)

Perhaps the most gratifying piece of information I extracted from my meetings with Andrus was the fact there here was someone who really cared — something my previous encounters with the bureaucracy left me in doubt about.

This was proven a year later when, after a forced suspension from the Arts college because of academic troubles (an exigency which arose primarily from my poor choice of roommates and living quarters–i.e., a Collegetown “freak house”) — the Guidance and Testing Center director risked his credibility and wrote a long, forceful letter to the secretary of the Arts college urging my reinstatement; without that letter, and Andrus’s intervention in my case, I suspect my suspension would have become permanent.

Three years later, and in more settled circumstances, I decided, for my own enlightenment, to take the tests again. The results clearly showed that I had indeed grown up — this time I was pleased to note scores of 92 per cent on “emotional stability,” 90 on “objectivity,” and 80 on “general activity.”

One of the reasons for these quantum leaps in emotional and intellectual maturity, I am sure, had been Andrus’s unyielding faith in me. He had taken a chance on me, and I was glad to have been able to prove that his hunch about me — that I could make it at Cornell — had been correct.

Who, then, is this omniscient Howard Andrus? For a man who administers such revealing tests to his clients, Andrus doesn’t reveal much about himself. There is little published information about him — a fact that is somewhat surprising, considering both the amount of time Andrus has spent on the Ithaca campus (34 years) and the importance and sensitivity of his position.

Nor is Andrus much inclined to proffer information. Even the members of his staff, all of whom have worked with the director more than ten years, are at a loss to describe him, except to confirm such obvious characteristics as his unnervingly even temperament and preference for conservative attire. There are few Andrus anecdotes; Marian Stott, supervisor of testing and second in command at the center, did note with a smile that her boss was extremely fond of “bad puns,” although she could not remember any offhand.

Indeed, virtually the only source of public data about Howard Andrus is the thumbnail autobiography he was constrained to insert in his doctoral thesis, “The Extent and Causes of Turnover Among Secondary School Teachers in New York Central Schools for the Year 1949-1950,” submitted to a Cornell graduate education department jury in February 1951.

Here one learns that Andrus was born on July 7, 1915 in the town of Chemung, New York, the son of the Reverend Frank Andrus; that he attended Houghton College, a little-known Methodist four-year liberal arts institution; that he taught social studies at Rushford Central School in Rushford, New York until his induction into the US Army in April 1943, where, because of his already considerable psychological and testing skills, he was employed as a classification specialist until his discharge in December 1945; that he entered the Graduate School in July 1946, staying on as director of what was then called the university’s Educational Placement Office; and that in 1945 he married his wife, Helen, of Oil City, Pennsylvania, and that they have a son, Duane.

Andrus is happy to provide the additional basic information needed to update his biography. He has taught and worked with graduate students as a member of the Education department since 1951, the year he received his PhD. In 1959 he became director of the newly-formed university Educational-Vocational Guidance Office. When that office was merged in 1969 with the university Testing Bureau to form the present Guidance and Testing Center, he became the new center’s director.

A second son, Richard, was born in 1951 and in 1958 his daughter, Sharon, was born. He also allows that he is an avid reader in his spare time (he was reading a biography of Clarence Darrow at the time of the interview).

He notes with pride that he was elected to the Ithaca school board in 1970, 1972, and 1975 — a position that permitted Andrus to display his relatively conservative views on education (as well as what some critics have regarded as a tendency toward intellectual arrogance). (He found the demands upon his time too much to coordinate with his duties at the center and he has since resigned from the school board.) Even these facts are provided with such detachment, however, that Andrus might be speaking about one of his advisees, and the interviewer is bound to leave feeling he knows about as much about his sphinx-like subject as he did when he entered.

Andrus answers questions about his personal qualities tersely, if at all, and it is virtually impossible to elicit a controversial comment from him on any subject. Even on the question of the current truth-in-testing bill being debated in Congress, the director of the university Guidance and Testing Center was virtually mum, other than to say that he does not believe the new restrictions being placed on the testing industry will hamper his work in any significant way. Besides, he notes, with a slight smile, he has always been happy to show students how the tests are constructed and scored.

“I have nothing to hide,” says the man of 1,500 tests.

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