A long, but interesting and insightful essay from Caitlin Flanagan, on the college-admissions scandal, which is really a sign of much deeper societal rot. It’s based not just an a reading of the cases, but her own horrible experience as a college-guidance counselor at a private school.
There’s a lot to unpack here.
First, note that these selfish parents who wanted the status among their peers of being able to say that their daughter was a student at USC, essentially ruined her life:
The couple paid $500,000 to get both of their daughters into USC on the preposterous claim that they rowed crew. Their daughter Olivia has become a particularly ridiculed character in the saga, because there are pre-indictment videos in which she describes both her lack of desire to attend college and how rarely she attended high school during her senior year. But I have sympathy for her. She knew higher education wasn’t where she belonged, but her parents insisted that she go. Up until the scandal, the girl had a thriving cosmetics line, was a popular YouTuber, and was clearly making the best of what Hillary Clinton would call her God-given potential. Now she’s a punch line, and Sephora has pulled her products off the shelves.
Let it be stipulated that much of her Youtube success was due to the fact that she was her mother’s daughter. Not to take anything away from her talent, but there is an overabundance of talent in Hollywood, and much of success, unfortunately, comes from your ability to get it in front of the right people. Nonetheless, she was making a successful life from the accident of her birth, and could have been allowed to continue to do so without the corruption and pressure from the parents.
But the other irony is that all of this wasn’t done to get her into Harvard, but USC. Now USC is a good school, and in fact I have two nieces who have degrees from it, and I’m pretty confident that they got in (including scholarships) legitimately. I haven’t asked them, but I would imagine they would be rightly infuriated, because this revelation denigrates and raises unjustified suspicions about their own accomplishments both in getting in, and being successful there.
But as she points out, there are implications about the ethics and corruption of the “elites” who fancy themselves our betters, far beyond academia:
Much of the discussion of this scandal has centered on the corruption in the college-admissions process. But think about the kinds of jobs that the indicted parents held. Four of them worked in private equity, a fifth in the field of “investments,” others in real-estate development and the most senior management of huge corporations. Together, they have handled billions of dollars’ worth of assets within heavily regulated fields—yet look how easily and how eagerly they allegedly embrace a crooked scheme, as quoted in the court documents.
Here is Bill McGlashan, then a senior executive at a global private-equity fund, reacting to Singer’s plan to get his son (who does not play football) admitted to USC via the football team: “That’s just totally hilarious.”
Here is Robert Zangrillo, the founder and CEO of a private investment firm, talking with one of Singer’s employees who is planning to bring up his daughter’s grades by taking online classes in her name: “Just makes [sic] sure it gets done as quickly as possible.”
Here is John B. Wilson, the founder and CEO of a private-equity and real-estate-development firm, on getting his son into USC using a fake record of playing water polo: “Thanks again for making this happen!” And, “What are the options for the payment? Can we make it for consulting or whatever … so that I can pay it from the corporate account?” He can. “Awesome!”
Here is Douglas Hodge, the former CEO of a large investment-management company, learning from Singer that his son will be admitted to USC via a bribery scheme, and that it’s time to send a check: “Fanstatic [sic]!! Will do.”
The word entitlement—even in its full, splendid range of meanings—doesn’t begin to cover the attitudes on display. Devin Sloane is the CEO of a Los Angeles company that deals in wastewater management. Through Singer, he allegedly bribed USC to get his son admitted as a water-polo player. But a guidance counselor at his school learned of the scheme and contacted USC—the boy did not play the sport; something was clearly awry. Singer smoothed it over, but the whole incident enraged Sloane: “The more I think about this, it is outrageous! They have no business or legal right considering all the students privacy issues to be calling and challenging/question [my son’s] application,” he wrote to Singer.
I’m happy that there will be legal consequences for all this, but I have a feeling that, rather than re-examine their own lives, values , and ethics, I suspect that their peers will probably just think “How could they be so stupid?” And go on with the corruption in their own lives, thinking themselves smarter, and able to continue to beat the system. And of course, what has been on display with the (so far) asymmetric investigations at the highest levels of our nation’s government, they might be justified in thinking so.
But to get back to the proximate issue, the corruption of academia itself, it will require a change in societal thinking about the value of a college degree (this may already be happening). But first and foremost, we have to reform the loan program, and a key part of that would be removing government from the equation.