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College Admissions Scandal Is No Laughing Matter

by on March 18, 2019 5:00 AM


Within hours of the news of what may be the biggest cheating scandal in the history of university and college admissions, the jokes and memes started blowing up the internet. Pictures of actress Lori Loughlin, famous for her role on the sitcom “Full House,” seemingly dressed in an orange jumpsuit with the title “Big House.” References to Felicity Huffman’s role on ABC’s Desperate Housewives and to her husband William H. Macy’s role on a show ironically called “Shameless.”

This scandal is a comedian’s dream come true, with famous actors, CEOs, lawyers, managers of investment firms and others busted in the ultimate pay-to-play scheme of bribing college coaches and SAT and ACT proctors to get their children into prestigious universities. At the center was guy named Rick Singer who allegedly took in over $25 million in “donations” to his foundation to cheat, lie, and buy off the people in the scheme the FBI called Operation Varsity Blues.

The only thing is, this scandal isn’t even a bit funny. It’s horrific. This scandal sums up so much that is wrong with our society.

Overpaid actors who believe their own press and fall for the adoration of their fans. People who are so removed from the rest of us and who see themselves above not only other people but above the rules and above standards of fairness and integrity. People who believe that the ends always justify the means. People who are so oblivious that their limited attempts to cover up their crimes in the text and email threads seemed like a bad episode of “Law and Order.” People who live behind walls and fences with bodyguards and lavish lifestyles who are so removed from the rest of the world that they didn’t even consider they may get caught. People who pass that narcissism on to children who learn they too are seemingly above the law, who post videos of themselves on the internet with such success that companies pay them to post more.  

People who thought nothing of faking disabilities so that their kids could have even more of an advantage. Someone needs to investigate the physicians who provided documentation that these kids required accommodations for test taking as the next step.   

It was a collective “up yours” to the students and their families who work hard, play fair, manage their disabilities and do it without posting it on social media.

The scope and depth of this scandal is what makes it news. The fact that it was so blatant and involved such well-reputed organizations is what makes it horrific. Sadly, the pay-to-play mentality is nothing new.  

HBO recently did a segment on the show Real Sports that covered the pay-to-play phenomenon within youth sports.  In summary, youth sports are becoming about a family’s willingness – and ability — to pay for their kids to play sports. While the money isn’t at the level of Operation Varsity Blues, the impact across the country is significantly greater. The kids who can’t pay to be on travel teams or have private coaches or trainers or belong to fancy training centers are eventually losing out. Interscholastic sports, which used to be an even playing ground for all kids, have a widening gap between those who can pay and those who can’t. A kid who has been “professional” since elementary school will undoubtedly beat out the kid whose parents couldn’t afford it. Picture Lori Loughlin on the sidelines in her fold up chair.  

High school students whose parents can’t afford SAT coaches and classes, resume writers, buy-a-college-essay and donations to the university or college — or to a charlatan middle man —  aren’t going to get the same chance either.

Nothing new here, so should we move on? The answer is emphatically no. The solutions are complicated and multi-tiered but we have to at least try.

There needs to be greater scrutiny on the admission process, starting with the public universities. External audits of admission practices and policies at colleges and universities as well as greater oversight on the application process are a must. When the news release of Operation Varsity Blues came out, high school guidance counselors throughout California just shook their heads. Many reportedly knew something was up but felt the system was too big and too strong to take on. There should be anonymous reporting opportunities for someone who sees something to say something. The NCAA ultimately should play a role as well, although, given their history, that’s like asking a burglar to watch over the jewelry store. At the University of Southern California, one associate athletic director had the ability to work the system with versions of lists to admissions and to the coaches. Can we say checks and balances?

Pay-to-play is the perfect storm of parents working out their own issues through their kids. Fame. Fortune. Greed. Thinking they are above the rest of us. Was the second bribe easier to make or to receive than the first? Lori, Felicity and the others, what do you say to the kid who didn’t get accepted because your undeserving “student” took their place? What message did you send to your own kids?

I think about the characters in this scandal and wonder, what happened to your character?



Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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