52 wealthy people have been charged with fraud for participating in a $25 million college entrance exam cheating scheme, the largest college admissions scandal the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) has ever prosecuted.
This is a big deal.
But it is far from surprising.
Hollywood actors Felicity Huffman, Lori Loughlin, and dozens of others complicit in contracting with consultant William “Rick” Singer are merely exploiting a system that has been rigged in their favor for decades.
Two hundred FBI agents were involved in “Operation Varsity Blues” that exposed how parents bribed college coaches and insiders at testing centers $200,000 to $6.5 million to guarantee their children’s admission into some of the nation’s most elite schools, including Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, UCLA, University of Southern California, and Wake Forest University, in what FBI special agent Joseph R. Bonavolonta described as “a sham that strikes at the core of the college admissions process.”
U.S. attorney for the district of Massachusetts, Andrew Lelling, stated in a press conference Tuesday morning:
“These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege. Based on the charges unsealed today, all of them knowingly conspired with Singer and others to…buy their children’s admission to elite schools through fraud.”
According to charging documents, Rick Singer arranged for examiners to take college admissions tests for his clients’ children, provide correct answers to the tests, or change answers after exams were completed.
Lelling said, to avoid suspicion, scores were inflated in cases where the test was being administered a second time.
“What Singer was good at doing was calibrating the fake credentials to appear realistic and not so impressive as to invite suspicion or additional scrutiny.”
Singer also plotted with university coaches to claim students were participating in athletics even if they never played sports, and went so far as to doctor photos of athletes in which pictures of students’ heads were placed atop pictures of athletes’ bodies.
One male student was presented as “an elite high school pole vaulter” even though the student’s school had no record of him pole vaulting or doing any other track and field events.
But that’s not all.
In one instance, Singer instructed one parent to get his daughter to “be stupid” while a psychologist evaluated her so she could be awarded extra time on her exams.
As outrageous as this is, it should come as no surprise given college admissions’ ongoing culture of corruption, an inevitable consequence of catering to rich donors and promoting brands instead of dedicating themselves to their supposed educational mission.
This is capitalism at its quintessential ugliest.
Vox‘s Libby Nelson wrote in her piece “The real college admissions scandal is what’s legal:”
“If the only goal of the college admissions process in America were to create a perfect educational environment for students—not to appease wealthy donors or boost the school’s brand through athletics — the fraud wouldn’t have worked at all.”
The celebrities and otherwise wealthy perpetrators of this scandal were only doing what the system allowed them to do, and others had done before them.
“The underlying logic of the scheme was this: Wealthy parents wanted to get their kids into elite colleges, but their kids had so-so grades and test scores that wouldn’t qualify them for admission through the usual process. Happily for them, college admissions isn’t a level playing field.”
This is precisely what ProPublica editor Daniel Golden investigates in his 2006 book The Price of Admission in which is featured none other than Ivanka Trump’s husband Jared Kushner, who attended Harvard thanks to his father, Charles Kushner’s, $2.5 million donation.
We could lock up or fine all the Lori Loughlins, Felicity Huffmans, Jared Kushners we want, but if the system remains the same, so will the crimes.
Since the story broke, we have heard comparisons to it and Affirmative Action.
That could not be any more a false equivalency.
The ACLU tweeted:
“Imagine believing it’s affirmative action that’s the problem with college admissions.”
While it is true the college cheating scandal and Affirmative Action secure seats in university classrooms to some students, excluding others, Affirmative Action provides educational opportunities for minorities who have not benefited from the level of economic, social, and–yes, white–privilege opulent students traditionally have.
While it may be a valid claim that Affirmative Action favors certain students over others, we must consider the institutional economic and racial disparities that have systematically disenfranchised minorities for hundreds of years.
Educational consultant Mark Stucker, host of the weekly podcast “College-Bound Kid,” focusing on educational access and equity, said:
“This scandal exposed the fact that there is a misplaced emphasis on so-called affirmative action inequities, rather than privilege. That is the big travesty of college admission. People of means are able to tilt the system in their favor.”
Providing an opportunity to acquire an education is hardly the worst thing we can do–except when it is lumped into the same profit-driven combine as healthcare, pharmaceuticals, media, and banking.
Education should be free.
It is not a finite commodity like oil.
We can’t run out of it.
A more educated populace makes a more prosperous country, as Thomas Jefferson wrote:
“An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.”
For every dollar we spend on educating someone, we receive a seven-fold return on investment.
But in America, everything has to first be siphoned through Wall Street and Washington lobbyists so the money stays at the top.
This cheating scandal is proof positive of the rot within our capitalist system.
And that needs to change.
Image credit: Public Domain Pictures