The recent headlines surrounding the college admissions scandal that ensnared over 50 individuals, including Desperate Housewives actress Felicity Huffman (and, by implication, her husband, Shameless actor William H. Macy), deserves comment here.
I advocate for education on a regular basis in my books and on this blog. It’s the one, sure, true path to enlightenment, understanding, an improved standard of living, and an elevated quality of life. To that end, being admitted to a top-tier college–especially for students from middle or lower income backgrounds–is a keen, admirable aspiration, and a life changing event for those that achieve it and maximize the opportunity.
To read about already-privileged children of movie stars and business leaders being given an additional (and illegal) advantage is at once beyond the pale and not surprising.
This time, however, it’s different: they got caught. The nauseating part is, of course, that these parents couldn’t be content to let their children just have a little advantage: being the offspring of rich, prominent parents who can afford to attend any college; to have the money for tutors to help them with high school classes and SAT tests; to have the money to donate to a college or university just prior to their children’s application to that same institution, just to get the attention of the president and the admissions board.
One would think that would be enough. But no. These parents who were indicted on felony charges this week wanted a ‘guarantee’ that their kids would get into a prestigious university. And it appears that, in many instances, they got it.
In doing so, they eliminated other hardworking and honest students from a seat at the table. And that is where the real scandal lies. (Expect lawsuits from those same students who didn’t make the cut at the implicated universities, and expect settlements in the millions of dollars.)
One of the most challenging issues in American society right now is income inequality. If we’re going to effectively address that, we need to address educational inequality. While the college admissions system may never be perfect, it can be tweaked into a more just process.
College administrators could require in-person interviews with, and video footage of, athletes being recruited to attend and play collegiate sports on scholarship. (When I was a senior in high school and was offered a full scholarship to play basketball at Brown University, it was not because of who my parents were. It was because they’d actually seen me play ball.)
Testing conditions and identity checks could be (and should be) more tightly regulated and enforced.
Universities or state legislatures could implement regulations that prohibit donations from a student’s family members five years prior to a student’s application and five years after a student’s graduation. This would prevent dim and dull but well-connected students from having a parent donate money to a school a year prior to a student’s application in order to ensure admission. (I won’t name any names here, but you know who you are.)
If you want to donate money to your alma mater because you just love your school, knock yourself out. If you want to donate to grease the admission wheels, forget about it.
This could put a host of Ivy League schools in a very awkward position, as many depend on alumni donations for funding. Good. Let some hungry and deserving students take their place in your hallowed halls. Let’s see how much genuine affection there really is out there when the quid pro quo is off the table.
Finally, it’s important to know that this kind of behavior–which has gone on for years and will continue in some form–is what chaps the butts of less-well-connected people who want a shot at a quality education. With all the wailing about the injustice of affirmative action, which will not be debated here or in comments, (and I will use the delete button) this illegality on top of advantage smacks of something much worse.
It is desperate. And it is shameless.
Now, it will be interesting to see if the inequality in our educational institutions extends to our judicial institutions. Note that, in 2011, Ohio mother Kelley Williams-Bolar was sentenced to 10 days in jail and three years probation for falsifying her home address so her children could attend better schools. (The school they were attending apparently passed only 4 of 26 state standards for performance. Hell, I’d move my kids, too. Governor Kasich pardoned her, citing the punishment as excessive, but noted that it was not a pass, just a second chance.)
If a single, working class mother gets ten days in jail for lying about her address to send her child to a better public school, what do these parents, with every advantage in life, indicted on felony charges, get as punishment?
3 months? 6 months? A year in prison? Or do they walk with probation, community service, and a fine, which they can easily pay?
Boston is notorious for being unimpressed by Hollywood celebrity. And they are notorious for placing a great deal of importance on education.
We’ll see how this plays out, if what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, and if laws are enacted to make sure this kind of injustice doesn’t happen again.