Looking at “Selection”
How did Peace Corps initially select who would serve as a Volunteer and who would not?
I argue that question is impossible to answer today. The data and the records that could answer that question may no longer exist.There is no one to ask and no place to go to research the question. Yet, it is a critically important one.
These are some of the research questions necessary for such a study that should be answered and I don’t think they can be, without tremendous research resources and the will to use them.
Was the criteria and process for selecting the first Volunteers, those in training programs that began with the number 1, identical? If so, what was it?
If not, what was the process and criteria for each of those pioneer programs?
What was the process used to review each subsequent application?
What was the process and criteria to reject subsequent applications?
Did the process and criteria change over the first seven years, during the time that training was contracted to colleges in the United States?
If so, how?
If an application was not rejected at the initial sort, what was the process and criteria for matching the applicant with a program?
When, why, how, and by whom did the program known as “Selection” formally begin?
Who were the staff members assigned to the “Selection” function and what were their qualifications?
Was the process and criteria for all programs the same? If so, what were the components?
If not, how did the process and criteria vary by each program?
How was the “selection” team for each program chosen?
What role did college staff members have in the selection process?Did it vary by program?
How was the composition of the selection board chosen for each program?
From the time of the return of the first Volunteers, was there always a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer on the Selection Board, for each program? If not, which ones?
If there was always a RPCV on the Selection Board, did that RPCV have the power to make the ultimate decision on whether a trainee was selected?
How did the Selection Board make the decision to select or deselect a trainee? (Consensus? Majority vote? Unanimous vote?) Did they vary by program, if so, how?
How was the “high risk/high gain” score determined?
Was the deselected trainee always given the real reason for de-selection? If not, why not and who decided what to tell the trainee?
Did any one member have power to say yes or no on a trainee? If so, who? If it varied by program, how?
If Peace Corps received a letter of recommendation from a member of Congress requesting that the trainee be accepted, was their a written policy on how to respond? If so, what was it? If not, what might happen to the request?
Finally, was there a process in which feedback was received from each host country program on how accurate the Selection Board decisions had been? If so, what was it?
Now, I will suggest some components of selection based on my own experience as a trainee, that may or may not have relevance for other programs.
Were the following components used to evaluate or rate trainees for selection?
Attendance in class
Physical ability as demonstrated by ability to complete rope jungle, four-day survival hike, “drown proofing” and other physical feats
Score on application test
Physical stamina and health during training
FBI field investigation
Psychological test scores
Psychological and/or psychiatric evaluation based on observation and interviews with both the trainee and training staff
Behavior during field work
Mastery of skills required for the program
What weighted value was given to each component?
Those of you who worked as Peace Corps staff may well have some answers to some of the questions for some of the time. Posting such information on Peace Corps Worldwide is as good a place as any to do so. I hope for a time when there is a Peace Corps Library/Archive and a research staff that will catalog and index with the location of all the information and data available about Peace Corps.
As Tom Herbert said, once you start thinking about training, the memories flow. I will share a partial one, that will not appear in any public document.
Full disclosure, I was rated a +4/-4, I think. We were told that the survival hike in the Pecos Wilderness would be a deciding factor in our selection. Well, as myself, and my two good friends started up the trail, the last of our seven member group led by Ron, the ex-Marine “gung-ho” trainer, we passed the last public outhouse. Jeanne said, “Do we really want to do this?” Claudine always had a plan, this was the latest. “Look,” she said, “We have beer and food in our back packs. We can just sit here and wait for the rest of them to come back in three days. We will be selected out, but I know this freighter that is leaving Montreal for Paris and we can be on it.” Claudine always knew of a freighter. Seemed like a plan, to me.
So, we plopped down, popped a beer, and lit up an unfiltered Pall Mall. We were enjoying the wilderness, some thirty feet from the parking lot, when we hear this loud bellowing coming from the trail. “What are you candy **#2 doing?” Ron screamed. Most reluctantly, we picked up our burdens. Now, that is the beginning of the story.
The end of the story is that Jeanne, Claudine and I were all selected in. But how that happened is the story that won’t appear in any archive. I won’t even tell Dennis Grubb or Brad Whipple who may have sat on our Boards.