The 2019 College Admissions Scandal
I have a few random thoughts on the admissions scandal that is rocking not just the world of higher education, but the nation as a whole. It’s unusual that my mostly rarified world of college education appears in the headlines for more than one news cycle. This one is really big. At least, I hope so. Because I hope it will change the world of college admissions forever. But I’m probably too optimistic, right?
Here are some of my initial musings:
- If the children of the indicted did not know their parents bought their way into college, I hope they have good therapists to deal with the betrayal and humiliation. Obviously, the parents suspected that their children could not gain admission on their own, so they greased the wheels. It’s pretty insulting, if you think about it.
- If the children of the indicted did know, then their characters are already severely damaged and they will have to fight their way to goodness through deep self-reflection and honest inquiry, hopefully with the help of brilliant therapists.
- If the spouses did not know about the “investment” in their children’s education, I hope they have a good therapist, too.
- I hope all of them will be will be spared the punishment of Sisyphus, who, we all know, was brutally punished for “his self-aggrandizing craftiness and deceitfulness by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill only for it to roll down when it nears the top, repeating this action for eternity.” In other words, I hope they won’t be punished for life and that they find some peace after they have come to terms with what they have done. I can’t imagine the humiliation they are experiencing.
The children of these scandalous humans have all learned well that money can buy you anything. Anything. Just for being the offspring of rich parents. Fame. The best schools. Yacht weekends. Unimaginable deals to don clothing and makeup. And yes, much of that clothing and makeup was free to the people who could most easily afford to buy it on their own.
Let’s hope the scandal helps them reflect on their lives and ill-gotten gains so that they can become better people in the wake of this.
I’m sure every parent who has used a legal “side door” into college admission is, if they’re being honest with themselves, a little fearful that they, too, will be accused of gaming the system, which they in fact did. To hope that they feel guilt is probably too optimistic. Most of them, after all, have not broken the law. Their side door was flung open via cash for buildings, professorships, theaters, athletics facilities, gardens, and more.
Then there’s the world of college athletics which may never been the same. Everyone in higher education knows that coaches have outsized privileges and responsibilities. The antipathy between the academic and athletic sides of universities doesn’t come from nowhere. It’s grounded in the academics’ ideals of academic integrity and the constant violation of those ideals by athletics. Maybe this will help right the ship so that we focus more on education and less on the multi-trillion dollar business of college athletics.
Many people are learning the Anglicized word “schadenfreude” for the first time – because it describes exactly what they are feeling – glee at another’s misfortune. People take comfort when the recipients of undeserved fortune suffer consequences, cheering joyfully, “What goes around comes around.” I always feel uncomfortable when I experience that kind of joy. It’s not a display of our better selves.
What I am hoping is that this scandal will be the turning point – a moment to restructure the college admissions process nationally. No one likes the process. No one. Not the people who are running it or the people subjected to it. Plus, it runs counter to everything America stands for. There is nothing just or equitable about it. Calls for college admission reform are nothing new. But maybe this is the moment we can actually get something done.
Here are some intriguing thoughts on the subject that came out before the scandal:
Reimagining College Access: Performance Assessments From K-12 Through Higher Education by the Learning Policy Institute
High School Anxiety: A Call For College Admissions Reform (Dec. 30, 2015) an article by Chris Teare in Forbes
The Best Ways to Fix College Admissions Are Probably Illegal by Jeffrey Selingo, April 27, 2018, for The Atlantic
The Dueling Deities of Harvard by Caitlin Flanagan, November 19, 2018, about Harvard’s admissions process, also for The Atlantic
Turning the Tide: Can Admissions Reforms Redefine Achievement? by Matthew Lynch in the Ed Advocate on October 16, 2016.