With news still breaking about the prominent actresses, business leaders, elite college coaches, and for-profit college prep companies involved in the Justice Department’s largest-ever college admissions prosecution I am floored by the depth of allegations and discoveries.
I mean, the level of sheer deception so far disclosed in this case is rather unsettling and disgusting: students posing as star athletes in a sport they never played, pretending to have a learning disability to take a standardized test with an “inside guy” proctor, submitting fraudulent photos to admissions staff, etc, to say nothing of the hundreds and thousands of well-deserving students denied admission over the years.
And the sums – ranging from tens of thousands to millions – that these parents paid to get their children privileged spots at some of the nation’s premier colleges is even more boggling.
To think too of the socio-economic factors the rest of America continues to grapple with – a wage-stagnated economy, yearly rise in cost of living, and even greater rise in a university education (far above the pace of inflation), increasingly gradual displacement of jobs, among many other things – this case is a startling reminder of the disconnect in this country between the privileged ruling classes and the forgotten just-trying-to-get-by masses.
Daniel Golden, himself a product of an elite school (Harvard), wrote a hard-hitting expose in 2006 titled, “The Price of Admission” about the corrupt admissions policies that have long favored the children of alumni, celebrities, and other rich and powerful people.
Far from equaling the playing the field and allowing lower classes to get in and move up the social/economic ladder, many of these universities (which he calls out by name, including key people, donation amounts, etc.), are instead maintaining a class structure where the rich elites essentially become an oligarchic minority running the uninformed and uninitiated majority.
In a recent article posted to Pro Publica, where he is an editor, Golden recounts the intended purpose of his book upon its initial release: to expose corrupt admissions practices. However, the impact of his book, while likely spurring some level of conversation, had an even more startling outcome: wealthy parents asking him for how-to advice on how they could get in on the scam!
Like the movie “Trading Places” where the out-of-touch rich stockbrokers bet that riches and poverty are largely a product of environment for a meager buck, many parents of the rich elite class treat entrance into premier colleges as a game they cannot only not lose but that they can rig if necessary. I’ve quoted Golden below:
But decades of investigating college admissions have led me to conclude that, for rich and famous families, it’s more like a television game show, “Who Wants to Be an Ivy Leaguer?” complete with lifelines for those who might otherwise be rejected. Instead of phoning a friend or asking the audience, the wealthy benefit from advantages largely unavailable to middle-class and poor Americans — what I described in my book as “the preferences of privilege.”
Here are some of my thoughts on what this scandal says about modern American society, culture, and the state of higher education more broadly.
Two Different Justice Systems Means Two Different Outcomes for Those Impacted. When you have a mom being jailed for lying about where her daughters lived so they could attend a school in a better district, and not be stuck in failing inner-city neighborhood schools, we need to have a serious conversation not only about school choice, but about the nature of the legal system. Will these rich and famous parents who used untold sums to lie and cheat their way through the system face a similar fate or simply get the proverbial “slap on the wrist?”
What about meritocracy and the great land of opportunity? In some sectors, yes, the poor and disenfranchised rise, but in the more loftier areas of corporate and political power, apparently, the famous mantra still applies: “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Political power, by its very nature, is a very personal and relational thing: you only let those in that you know. The same mentality seems to apply in rich circles and those places they go to receive an education (i.e. socialize and network).
What is an “elite education” for anyways? For some, it largely remains a matter of receiving the best education money can buy. But for many more, it boils down to one thing: connections. And the opportunities these connections provide. If these mediocre students getting into these colleges through their parents scandalous deeds is any indication, the rich are not usually the brightest. An elite education, like fancy diamonds and an exotic car, is a status symbol. It keeps these leisure-oriented folks in good standing with their status-driven neighbors. As Golden pointed out in his book, you’ll be hard-pressed to find these privileged rich kids trying to get into Cal Tech or MIT. Too much rigor there and not enough loopholes to rig the system. Better to cruise through four years of Brown taking mostly pass/fail courses.
If this has been going on for decades – which it probably has – what does that say about the state of our most vital institutions (which these elites run?) Love or hate Tucker Carlson, his latest book, “Ship of Fools: How a Selfish Ruling Class is Bringing America to the Brink of Revolution,” is spot on, and given the case before us, somewhat prophetic. Imagine this: the same sleezy cheaters who bought their way to the highest levels of university are now in the highest level of government. Well, look no further. Enter: Jared Kushner, President Trump’s Son-in-law, whose dad, according Golden’s book (mentioned above) “donated” $2.5 million to Harvard for his son to get in. Is this the caliber of leadership that America needs today – super wealthy privileged entitled elites breaking laws and ethical codes all the way to the top? I think not.
The Seven Deadly Sins and the corrupting nature of money. So far removed from the general public, the “fatted calves” literally think they are above the law. What would drive what were probably generally law abiding people to commit such flagrant acts of corruption? Is selfishness and greed really that rampant in the lives of the rich and powerful? Is the worship of Mammon really worth the cost of one’s moral compass and soul? The camel is said, after all, more capable of going through the eye of a needle than the rich man’s chances of going to heaven.
That the elites have been rigging the system for years (perhaps centuries) is now only being made painfully apparent to the general public. What changes now may come to admissions policies as a result of this indictment is the more interesting and important question to be answered.
As this case continues to fold so much is on the line: tougher standards for university admissions offices, the sentencing of all parties involved, the resulting aftermath of those kids who earned unmerited degrees and their respective diminishing value. Let us hope that justice – a God-ordained universal principle – still applies in the court of law.