Wednesday, March 13, 2019
The College Admissions Cheating Scandal
Rick Singer, the maestro of the scandal, talked about front door, back door, and side door admissions processes. The front door is the process most of us went through; admissions based on qualifications. Admission to the top colleges is mostly, but not totally, a meritocracy. Many of the nation’s universities, even public universities, accept less than half their applicants, sometimes below 10% at the most elite universities. Seats at these elite universities are highly coveted. [Side note to Americans. You can get a good education, often a better education, at less prestigious universities. You can be very successful in life without a degree from the elites.] They top universities pick and choose between tens of thousands of highly qualified students. The elite East Coast private universities focused their student bodies a century ago on white male Protestants, many of whom attended prep schools – the WASP Meritocracy. Women, Catholics, and Jews generally found the Ivy doors closed or slightly opened. Informal quotas limited Jewish admissions to the Ivies. James Conant, the young President of Harvard from 1933-1953, wanted to transform Harvard academically and change admissions profiles. He was especially impressed by the quality of public high school graduates attending the great public universities in the Midwest. President Conant pushed for the SAT as a means to open the doors of academe. The SAT was the key to the meritocracy. The move to a meritocracy based on ability began. Upper mobility based on a college education became possible. However, intellectual ability never remained the sole admissions criteria of the elites. Rick Singer acknowledged the back door. Exceptions are made for athletes, even at the most prestigious universities. Exceptions are made for legacy. Reports are that 40% of Notre Dame’s entering class are legacies, but that’s an extreme. The figure is usually 10-15% at the elite universities, but even at these schools the average SAT might be only 100 points below the median. Of course, a double standard exists. Exceptions are made for major donors. Tuition doesn’t cover all the costs of running these multiversities. Parents can buy admission. Rumors are that one highly prestigious non-Ivy reserves a number of seats in the freshman class for donors’ sons and daughters Exceptions are made for affirmative action. It’s not just what you know, but who you know. Prominent persons, such as powerful politicians, can make phonecalls. For example, University of Illinois legislators could get otherwise unqualified students into Illinois for years. These students often got free tuition. Personal contacts can make a difference. Parents use whatever contacts they can. University presidents and deans often have the power to make special admissions decisions. We understand these realities. These realities are well known, but they do not displace the meritocracy of higher education for 80-90% of the applicants. We don’t accept out and out cheating. We don’t accept corruption. People learn to game systems. Colleges and universities have been known to submit false data to U. S. News & World Reports. Applicants have falsely claimed to be diversity applicants. High school students are known to cheat and pad their resumes. So far though, no admissions officer, as yet has been implicated. No university has yet been institutionally involved in the scandal. Rick Singer used the side door. He had two ways of cheating the system. The first was exploiting the back door athletes loophole. Applicant files would be “dressed” to show them as star athletes combined with paying off, bribing, the coaches and an associate athletic director at USC. The second was to corrupt proctors at SAT test sites in Houston and West Hollywood. These proctors could aid the students, correct their mistakes, and even take the exams for them. These students should be kicked out of their universities because they knew. The FBI tapes tell us that the parents were willing and able participants in the cheating. The parents include Hollywood stars, a hedge fund manager, and the co-managing director of a large Wall Street law firm. Their residences are in Atherton, Beverly Hills, Del Mar, Mill Valley, Newport Beach, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Greenwich and New York City. They reek of money. They should reside for a time in a small cell. The lawyer should be disbarred. They are also going to pay a high financial price. Their payments to Singer were through a bogus non-profit for which they received deductions on their income taxes. Large penalties will be assessed. Here’s the crazy, stupid thought. These multi-millionaires could have bought their children into elite universities through the back door. They did not have to use the side door. Here’s the sad thought. Rick Singer is not the only one out there. More admissions scandals will emerge. Parents’ greed to get their children into an elite colleges starts early in life.