Sargent Shriver’s Original Memo on Selection
Pease note: This was posted last April, here on Peace Corps Worldwide. I am posting it again as the subject of Selection is once again appearing in the comments.
“The University of New Mexico was the training site for Peace CorpsTrainees bound for South America, from 1962 to approximately 1967. Selection was an important part of the training process. Trainees were observed at all times and subject to psychological testing and evaluation in addition to the elaborate background checks. The University of New Mexico has archived important documents from Peace Corps Training. Thank you to the Archivists at the University of New Mexico’ s Center for Southwest Research. The archivist emailed me a digitial copy of the memo. I had to reformate it in order to post it here. The text was not changed.
Here is the citation: Box 1 in the Selections 1962-1963 folder of UNMA 150, the Peace Corps Collection, Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico.”
PEACE CORPS — Washington 25, D. C.
MEMORANDUM TO ALL PEACE CORPS STAFF AND TRAINING PERSONNEL
FROM: Robert Sargent Shriver, Jr
SUBJECT: Selection of Peace Corps Volunteers
August 1, 1962
Importance of Selection
Because the Peace Corps program is built entirely around its Volunteers, its success or failure depends very heavily on the caliber of persons selected for overseas duty. The program of selection must be as thorough, as fair, and as valid as is possible.
Selection for service in the Peace Corps is a privilege, not the right, of American citizens. The maximal eventual size of the Peace Corps will probably be limited more by the number of well qualified and appropriately motivated persons who apply than by other considerations. The emphasis must continue to be on the quality of our Volunteers rather than their number.
Selection on Functional Bases
From the beginning, the Peace Corps has insisted that selection be based solely on merit and functional requirements of service. No applicant is denied the privilege of serving because of race, color, creed, or ethnic origin. Every effort is made to determine what sort of person each applicant is from what he has done in the past and how well he has done in order to predict his performance in alternate but specific overseas assignments under stressful conditions.
The Selection Division is charged with a series of responsibilities:
1. Processing all applications promptly and uniformly.
2. Evaluating the qualifications of all remaining applicants to identify and invite to training that much smaller group of applicants who appear to be best qualified to carry out the Volunteer duties of each project as defined by the Program Officer.
3. Preparing for each trainee an Assessment Summary, a distillation of all essential information in the applicant’s file, which becomes the first part of a cumulative record of the prospective Volunteer.
– page 2 –
4. During training, collecting, and evaluating further information on the trainee’s medical qualifications, his character, his general suitability, language proficiency, etc.
5. Near the end of training, evaluating all the information bearing on the suitability of each trainee for his prospective overseas assignment end recommending action in each case.
Cooperation of Others in Selection
In carrying out Responsibility 4 above, the Selection Division depends heavily on the cooperation of the Medical Division of the Peace Corps, the Training Director, theField Assessment Officer, and Medical and Psychiatric consultants of the training institutions and field investigations of the Civil Service Commission.
In carrying out Responsibility 5 above, the Selection Division relies heavily on the advice and judgment of the above-named officials of the training institutions and also of the Peace Corps Program and Training Officers associated with the project and the Peace Corps Representative, when available. When possible, advice is also solicited from a representative of the host country.
The Final Advisory Selection Board
For each Peace Corps project, there is a Final Advisory Selection Board; the membership of this Board is as follows:
- Peace Corps: Field Selection Officer, Program Officer, Training Officer, Peace Corps Representative, and Camp Director for Puerto Rico Training Program.
- Training Institution: Project Director, Field Assessment Officer, Training Consultant, and Psychiatric Consultant.
- Host Country: Usually a member of the Embassy staff, but sometimes another individual is designated.
These persons only constitute the Board of which the Peace Corps Field Selection Officer serves as Chairman. Additional persons who are in a position to contribute useful information regarding trainees, may be invited by the Chairman to participate in all or part of the meeting of the Board.
This Final Advisory Selection Board is charged with the heavy responsibility of advising the Peace Corps as to which trainees are judged to be fully qualified for overseas service. Hopefully, the Final Advisory Selection Board will arrive in each case at a consensus which will represent the best decision for both the Peace Corps and the trainee. The probability of consensual agreement may be increased if the following policy guidelines are kept in mind:
– page 3 –
- The further identification of well qualified potential Volunteers during training is a relatively unique and extremely valuable aspect of the Peace Corps selection program. It is well nigh inevitable that some applicants who appear promising on the basis of their application file (as reflected in their assessment summary) may on the basis of fuller information and performance data which become available during training turn out to be far less promising candidates for overseas duty. The fact that such individuals are occasionally invited to training does not imply an obligation to enroll them as Volunteers.
- Only if the Board is convinced, on the basis of the total record of the trainee before and during training that he will be an effective Volunteer, able and willing to make a positive contribution to the project overseas, should it recommend to the Peace Corps that he or she should be “selected in.”
- In case of any serious doubt regarding a trainee’s suitability for overseas duty, it is advisable to resolve the doubt in favor of the Peace Corps and the projectt. Perhaps it would be well for each member of the Final Advisory Selection Board to imagine himself “Do I want this trainee on my country team?” Only if the answer is an unequivocal “yes” should the decision be to “select in.”
The above guidelines may seem unduly rigorous, but remember that the Volunteer’s tour of overseas duty is mu.ch longer and far more stressful than the training program. Trainees not selected are, of course, usually greatly disappointed, and sometimes indignant, but they are far less of a problem for the Peace Corps than maladjusted, or noneffective Volunteers overseas who can embarrass not only themselves but their country.
Peace Corps staff members in any way involved with trainees and officials of training institutions are urged to cooperate with the Selection Division in emphasizing the real honor of being selected in, first, as a trainee and next as a Volunteer. Your cooperation is further solicited in assisting the Selection Division in systematically assembling all relevant information about trainees and evaluating it as objectively as possible. Most important of all, you are urged to cooperate in the total selection process, leading to the best possible decision regarding each trainee by emphasizing the integral nature of the tota1 selection process rather than giving individual trainees reasons to believe that this factor or that is likely to be weighed most heavily in their case. And of course, it is absolutely essential that staff members who do not concur with the action of a Board refrain from discussing the action with trainees.
– page 4 –
Responsibility for Selection
The Peace Corps Director has delegated basic responsibility for the selection of Volunteers to the Chief of the Division of Selection. However, with the growing size of Peace Corps operations, the Chief of Selection cannot participate directly in the evaluation of each trainee, so he relies on a staff of trained Field Selection Officers, each responsible for assigned projects. Each follows a set of designated procedures designed to lead to the best recommendation in each case. However, since the Chief of Selection must accept the responsibility for each decision, the action of the Board is advisory to him. Naturally, he hopes that he can regularly accept the recommendation of the Board. But, if for any reason, e.g., sharp disagreement among members of the Board, failure to weigh adequately all evidence, he believes he should take action other than that recommended by the Board, he has the right and the obligation to do so.
Finally, every member of the Peace Corps staff must always remember that the ultimate responsibility for the selection of Volunteers rests with the Director. This is no abstraction. For example, should there be serious disagreement or serious doubt among the members of the Final Advisory Selection Board, should the Chief of the Selection Division be uncertain whether or not to accept the recommendations of the Board, or should the full field investigation develop information bearing on the trainees’ security or loyalty, the final decision of selection or non-selection is mine to make.
Confidentialty of Trainee Evaluations and Board Deliberations
Federal regulations and other policies do not permit the transmittal of information about and evaluation of trainees and Volunteers to persons outside the agency concerned, in this case, the Peace Corps. Therefore, and in order to protect the reputations of the individuals concerned:
- Assessment Summaries or other data regarding trainees must be restricted to the staff members of the Peace Corps and the training institutions who are authorized and need-to-know.
- The evaluations of trainees at Selection Board meetings must not be discussed with or revealed to persons not participating in the deliberations of the Board. The only exception is: other Peace Corps personnel who need to know. And it is absolutely essential that no Board member discuss the deliberatons of a Board with any trainee. Gossip regarding trainees will not be tolerated.
- Members of the Selection Board (e.g., details of medical, psychological, or psychiatric examinations). Reports of the f’ull field investigations of the Civil Service Commission or F.B.I. are available only to the Field Selection
– page 5 –
Officer, the Chief of Selection, and General Counsel, other members of a Selection Board cannot but be curious as to the basis of a strong negative evaluation in the absence of shared information, but in separations of this kind must trust in the correctness of the considered professional judgments involved.
Communications with Trainees Not “Selected in”
Responsibility for informing a trainee that the Peace Corps cannot offer him. an overseas assignment is the sole responsibility of the Field Selection Officer, or another member of the Board designated by the Selection Officer. As indicated in the attached sample memorandum, it is usually not desirable, and often not possible, to answer the question: “Why was I not selected? All Board members may expect to be asked this question and one is strongly tempted to try to answer it. Please do not do so! A partial answer is usually worse than none. When asked by trainees, refer them to the Field Selection Officer.
Timing of Separations from Training
In some cases, it is highly desirable or even necessary to separate a trainee before the action of the Final Board. The general rule is to do so whenever the continued presence of the trainee is potentially damaging to the individual or the group. Obvious examples are serious illness or an acute psychotic episode. Such cases must be terminated as soon as possible, with the advice and cooperation of the medical and/or psychiatric consultant.
Less obvious but perhaps in need of early termination is the poorly motivated or the inadequately prepared trainee and occasionally one whose background investigation points to a bad character. Ordinarily such cases are terminated at an Intermediate Selection Board held about midway in the training program. Separations at this time are limited to those cases where it is agreed that the further presence of the trainee would be deleterious to the trainee or the program as a whole. In all other cases, the trainee is counseled and given the chance to complete training and perhaps qualify for “selection in.”
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This brings up some memories! I trained for a rural community development program in Turkey at Portland State University in June, 1965. As I recall, we started out with about 80 trainees and ended up with 56 going overseas for the final two months of training. It was a new program, and we were actually sworn in as Volunteers after that first month. One of our “psyches” bragged about his cross-cultural experiences living for a brief time in Hawaii. People “disappeared” weekly, and although there were vocal attempts at mounting some kind of protest, nothing really happened. One of the “deselected” trainees did show up in a Turkey program two years later. He had been young–19 I think–and there had been suspicion that he was too radical. I don’t recall bitterness on his part–he loved his later assignment and Turkey.
In 1967-68 I was a Peace Corps Fellow in Washington D.C. One of my jobs there was to help organize a conference for psychologists who would work with summer 1968 training programs. I don’t remember the name of the leader I worked for, but do remember that he began the conference with the assertion that the room was full of people who had been trained to work with people who had problems, were in one sense or another “ill.” Their PC assignments would be to work with young men and women who were basically “well,” who did not have problems. They were not trained for what would be their biggest challenge as counselors and selectors of Peace Corps Volunteers, predicting who would be successful.
I’m sure we lost a lot of people who would have been great Volunteers, and imagine that we got some who should not have made the trip overseas. But this memo–and reflections on experience–reminds me that the Peace Corps was a crazy idea that put a lot of people and ideas on the line. Sarge had to steer a craft between academics who said we would not be able to learn languages and adapt to cultures in that limited time and others who thought it all just a big boondoggle. Quibble with the specifics, but he and a bunch of wonderful leaders (some of them “dollar a year” folks who did not need or want the money) made it work.