Written by Chris Walker (@cwlkr20)
When the FBI went public with Operation Varsity Blues, they concluded that the rich can buy their way into college. Although a quiet truth, the extent of how the money was getting around was not deeply questioned, until it came out that parents in the top tax brackets were using a variety of illicit practices to get their offspring into the best schools around the country.
A quick recap: From 2011 to 2018, parents of college applicants are accused of paying more than $25 million to college admissions counselor William Singer through two different organizations. From there, he used part of the money to fraudulently inflate student test scores and bribe college officials, including coaches for lower-profile sports.
If Bobby needs a 1560 SAT score for Stanford, a rich parent drops the bag and has someone else take the test for him like this is Gossip Girl. Around 50 people, including prominent businessmen, college coaches, and several actors, have been charged with mail fraud. Schools like Yale University, University of Southern California, and Georgetown University, have officials embroiled in this investigation.
That’s odd, right? Instead of giving money to a university for a new gym, or an entire institute, these parents chose to scam. Donating to a school and expecting a payoff is definitely morally questionable, but not illegal. The idea is that the student’s admission will continue to add financial value to a school. This isn’t fraud; it’s putting the money through legitimate channels and having an unspoken agreement, should the applicant meet the bottom criteria to get in. At times, a school is willing to move the goal post, to keep the money coming in. Ask Jared Kushner; he probably won’t respond, but he did benefit from this system to get into Harvard.
Legacy admissions also factor in. The idea that if your father went to Notre Dame, you have a higher chance of getting in, reinforces a line of generational wealth for upper-class families. In accord, this is part of the reasoning behind affirmative action, which tries to bridge the gap for those who do not come from that world. It’s not a perfect system, but there are lawsuits against institutions like Harvard to rectify this. For example, there is an apparent disadvantage for Asian American students, who lose out on places to students in positions of generational wealth.
Nonetheless, these issues all contribute to the media coming out against the figures involved. With the exception of a Hollywood Reporter op-ed by David Mamet, where he defends his friend Felicity Huffman and points the finger at the college admissions system, these uncovered fraudulent admissions have seen a largely negative response from the news. As well, social media has played this for laughs, because confirming an uncomfortable truth about how the system benefits the rich is worthy of ridicule, as well as the public figures involved.
Honestly, the more that comes out about this investigation, the more ridiculous it gets. Personally, my favorite note is the photoshopping of pictures of the kids to look athletic and/or tall, in order to add them to team rosters. There are probably some ridiculous, fake shots of YouTuber Olivia Jade, daughter of indicted parent Lori Loughlin, being a coxswain, all so she could party at USC. She could have been doing that for free! She didn’t need to lose endorsement dollars over this. Think about the child’s future…as an Instagram influencer. Parents just don’t understand.
Nonetheless, money is still the best form of affirmative action — for the rich. It guarantees you a seat in the room, without the prying questions about how you got there. Instead, those questions are reserved for minority students, who are often miscast as being in top institutions only because of affirmative action.
They are pestered with questions on their scores, how they got into this school and the others that accepted them, all to see if they’re up to par. Hell, it even happens when you’re the President and your successor wants to throw stones. This breeds imposter syndrome because it tears at the foundation of a student’s self-worth, making them feel like a fraud, burdened with hiding their “secret”. Many of these people feel disadvantaged because they didn’t go to schools like Phillips Andover, have a specialized tutor for the SATs, or a dad who ran a hedge fund and was willing to pay for them to get into Georgetown. These students and graduates are good enough, and should never feel this way.
To note: several of the schools touched by the aforementioned scandal have said that they plan on taking action to review their processes. So far, Yale is the only school to dismiss a student involved with the scandal. Reportedly, Lori Loughlin’s daughters are still enrolled. Many of the collegiate officials have been fired or placed on leave. The NCAA is also involved, but take that with a grain of salt.
In the end, this investigation will hopefully bring about real change in the world of college admissions. Singer orchestrated an effective scam through the front of college admissions consulting, which is a legitimate business. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more scams like this one.
Just as well, when they’re putting together the low-budget Lifetime movie on this scandal, I want to be a writer in the room. Someone needs to put down words for Haylie Duff playing Lori Loughlin and Heather Locklear as Felicity Huffman. Hear me out, I already have a title: The Ivy Pact, coming to a cable television set near you.