The College Admissions Scandal: The Finger-Pointing Trifecta

When news of the College Admissions Scandal first broke in March of 2019, much of the nation’s students (and presumably those involved in the scandal, as well) were left with a single pressing question: “How the hell did that happen?” The College Admissions Scandal came as a striking blow to the American dream and a tragic letdown to the long held belief of a meritocracy. If the roads were paved with gold, it seemed some were hacking away at it for their own profit; and a broken road is the equivalent of an unpaved path—unusable and mundane. As the months rolled on and details into the unlawful exchanges between hopeful parents and money-hungry officers unraveled, increasingly, it seemed that, even in the land of opportunity, money was the universal unequalizer. Parents’ obsessive desire to win their children admission into the nation’s top schools blinded them to the fact that there are thousands of other youth, also competing for the same limited spots at elite schools, some working part-time jobs to support their families and then wasting away into the morning trying to catch up on assignments, all while hanging on to the fleeting hope that they might some day experience the luxury of leisure, and others who have it even worse—those who are so swept up in poverty and uncertainty and left to rot away on the outskirts of society, forgotten by those with the privilege, power, and means to alleviate their pain, that they can only find comfort and stability in gang wars and dull knives and drug overdoses—and then, after having endured all this, are labeled scumbags, deserving of a fate in slums. And if we’ve done this right, we can return to the old habit of pointing fingers at whoever we believe is responsible for our children falling ill and our daughters afraid to walk certain streets in fear of harassment and our youth preyed upon by bullying and self-harm and depression, even though if we had simply turned our gaze to the “scumbags” and given them a fair chance at life, most of these issues would have no ground to sprout in. The rich are not alone in this crime, but they are its masterminds, and a house divided shall not stand. That being said, it’s no wonder the involvement of the likes of Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman in such a high-profile case raised red flags, and for those directly impacted by these events as they witness them, white flags in surrender. To be fair, however, I would argue that rich people have it just as rough as the rest of the bunch. Think about it: elite universities, schools like Yale, Stanford, and UCLA, operate in a way that is strikingly similar to large corporations: suck up money out of the rich—get them to pay for new buildings with the promise of plastering their name on it, lure them into funneling money into costly research and engineering, then divert some of that money to the university’s administrators, and if there’s any change left over, put in a good word with the admissions officers to showcase the school’s “generous” college scholarships. While it’s easy to paint these universities as evil and those who run them as corrupt, really, the reason why anyone would bother doing this is because the accumulation of wealth by an institution or an individual is a much more fulfilling prospect than leading in innovation or paving the path for the future. If honesty came so naturally to humans, then we wouldn’t have to teach it in schools and those schools wouldn’t have been the very source of dishonesty that contaminates society. Universities are businesses in a free market. They project themselves as intellectual arenas through big names—alumni whose success and fame should, of course, be believed to be the direct product of XYZ University’s impact on them, and not their hard work or talent. Think Barack and Michelle Obama. Think Matt Damon. Think freaking Lin Manual Miranda. Think Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos, or Ellie Kemper, or Brooke Shields. Think Alan Turing. Think Woodrow Wilson, for crying out loud. To be sure, it’s a cheap shot, but it’s raked in billions of dollars and built buildings in perpetuity because students flock to these universities in the hopes that they might one day ascend to the ranks of any of the alumni, listed or not. That’s why they’re called elite schools, and admittedly, that’s why the parents involved in the College Admissions Scandal were after them: elite schools are a golden ticket into the upper classes—into prestige and prominence. So perhaps, society has got it all wrong. It can seem rewarding to watch wealthy parents fall under the weight of the gavel and the mallet, some emerging with jail time, thousands of hours of community service, fees greater than the sum of the bribes they paid, and a head held low (although Lori Loughlin, who is notoriously pleading not guilty—think of the kind of example she is setting for her daughters—has yet to be convicted), but at the end of the day, even if dozens of parents are charged, there are hundreds more that have escaped the hands of the law and watch mockingly. What about Wall Street? What about billionaires, like Jeff Bezos, that paid nothing in federal income taxes last year? What about politicians working for a deceitful administration, spreading lies and alternative facts? And how about those who aren’t doing anything? What do we make of bystanders? Are we bystanders?