Scandal, Part I

Al Roker on the college admissions scandal,

 “I have two words for you, SUNY Oswego”.


I am still processing the college admissions scandal that broke this week and trying to collect my thoughts because I am having a hard time getting my head around what happened.

Matt Reed has a blog on Inside Higher Education and I always look forward to what he writes because it is prescient and he is an administrator on a local community college campus where I once worked, so his writing sometimes involves issues quite close to home. He often pens a piece called “Friday Fragments” where he briefly touches on a variety of topics that are not necessarily connected. I decided to adopt his format because I honestly do not know where to begin or how to connect it all. So here goes…

People ask me, “Were you surprised?” Yes and no. I am not surprised that there was cheating going on. What shocks me is how brazen it was. I could imagine a good tennis player with decent test scores trying to bribe a coach. I am still trying to understand the pure cojones of fabricated athletic careers, manufactured awards AND cheating on BOTH standardized tests, to say nothing of the sums of money and the lengths that parents were willing to go to secure a spot for their children. 

The morning after the scandal hit the news, I listened to an NPR interview on my way to work. The broadcasters were expressing sympathy for the “poor kids” whose parents did this. I believe that there are some kids that did not know but I would wager that more knew than didn’t. Getting dressed up in water polo gear and posing for pictures or sitting for images on a rowing machine directly involved the students. They needed to fill out an application citing all of their activities. If they actually did their application, it seems likely that they would have known. And if they did not submit their applications they are still on the hook because you have to sign something that says the application is authentic, see below. 

I called my cousin this week and she answered the phone, “Well aren’t you in the new sexy business!” People jokingly said to me, “Wow! You must be rich!” I had students receiving acceptance letters and the punch line kept getting added, “and without any bribery!” Ugh…

I have heard it said that for the average family, trying to sort out the college admissions process is like trying to take a sip of water from a fire hose. This scandal has been the same for me. I keep writing this blog entry and I keep having to add more to it. I feel like I am drinking from a fire hose…it is overwhelming.

William Rick Singer claims to have worked with over 700 families. I think there could be more charges as the investigation continues. What will happen? What should happen? Will people go to jail? How will schools address the students that are part of this fraud? The Common Application has students sign the following statement. “I certify that all information submitted in the admissions process-including this application and any other supporting materials is my own work, factually true, and honestly presented…I understand that I may be subject to a range of possible disciplinary actions, including admissions revocation, expulsion, or revocation of course credit, grades and degree should the information be certified false.” If a student fraudulently enrolled at a school and applied with the Common App, this verbiage does not bode well for them keeping their already awarded degrees or their current enrollment status.

There is no lack of reading material online about this issue but if you want to see what happened on a granular level, I would suggest the article in Deadspin, here. (And just a warning, get ready to be outraged). But if you don’t have time to keep reading about this, here are two of my favorite quotes because they are so galling.

In the LA Times, in an article titled, “Audacious College Admissions Scandal Left So Many Red Flags Missed By So Many”, I read that Devon Sloan arranged with Singer to have his son admitted to USC with a “coveted” spot on the water polo team. When his son’s counselor at the Buckley School questioned this, Sloan emailed Singer and said, “The more I think about it, it is outrageous! They have no legal right to be calling it challenging/questioning my son’s application.” Let that sink in a minute. He was committing fraud, stealing a spot from a legitimate athlete and had the umbrage to say that it was outrageous and that the school had no legal right to question his fraud.

Gordon Caplan, co-chair of the law firm, Willkie, Farr and Gallagher, said to Singer, “To be honest, I’m not worried about the moral issue here. I’m worried about the, if she’s caught doing that, you know, she’s finished.” Think about that for a second. This man is at the pinnacle of the law profession and he “is not worried about the moral issue” of committing fraud. He is just concerned about getting caught.

The College Board and ACT Inc. sure have egg on their face. And I sympathize with all of the teenagers that have legitimate need for testing accommodations. I think these entities will come up with a labyrinthine set of steps that families will have pass through if they need more time or other arrangements for their students. 

I work with teenagers by day, I consult with them privately and I parent them. This has got to be disheartening for high school students all over the country. I hope for their sake that there are meaningful consequences for every group that committed fraud in this investigation. Stay tuned for Part II…

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