Lord, this college admissions scandal is a mess… If someone were making a film about it, it would have been an excellent choice to cast Felicity Huffman (who was arrested at gunpoint by federal agents for her role) and her husband, William H. Macy, as the ambitious parents who are determined to get their child into an elite university, no matter the cost. Hijinks, of course, would ensue. There is an element of farce at work in all of this, particularly because of how determinedly uninterested in their academic futures some of the kids are. They want to be left in peace to be Instagram and Snapchat influencers. The irony is, they don’t even want the spaces they’re taking up. Some of them didn’t even know any of this was happening. It was all the parents. I think if the parents could have actually gone to college for their kids, they would have.
The scale of the individual fraud in each family’s life was quite something to behold. They essentially had to create whole new children from scratch. The parents arranged for therapists to lie about their children having learning disabilities that had to be accommodated during testing. (This is an incredibly widespread tactic.) As if that weren’t enough, they then paid to have the answers on their children’s SAT tests changed manually. Every few years, there is an SAT cheating scandal, so I can’t say I’m surprised by this portion of the program. Completely faking athletic careers for their kids ramped things up several notches, though. It’s one thing to try to embroider riding the pine into more than it is on a college application, but some of these kids were recruited for sports they’d never even played. Never. Even. Played. Then there were the massive payouts, which were outlandishly, nonsensically, preposterously large. The depth and breadth of the dishonesty is really quite profound.
What a total failure of parenting. There is plenty more to discuss about this scandal, but this is the thing that really got me at first: how fundamentally these parents failed their children. They raised them to be mediocre then took every deceitful shortcut in the book to cover it up. It’s utterly disgraceful. Do not trust anyone who tells you these incredibly wealthy, influential people were just doing the best they could for their children. Cheating, fraud, theft, and deception aren’t what’s best for anyone, much less a minor whose brain is still developing. I don’t have much sympathy to spare for the children of multi-millionaire fraudsters — I’ll save my concern for the honest, hard-working Black and Brown kids being scapegoated whenever a White or Asian applicant feels their place at a selective university was “stolen” from them. Nevertheless, it’s pretty easy to see how this scandal is going to psychologically damage the kids it was supposed to benefit. What must if have been like to look over those applications and see written in them the children their parents really wanted?
Academics aren’t for everyone. Not everyone needs to go to college. Not everyone is ready to right out of high school either. Plenty of kids who didn’t get straight As go away for those four years and really come into themselves if they’re given the opportunity to take some charge of their lives and work towards what they want. Most of the kids caught up in this scandal could have gone to perfectly fine, reputable universities and received decent educations. Their parents can’t brag about that, though. And that’s what all this is really about: The people whose self-esteem is being manufactured are the parents, not the kids. Look at the level of damage they were willing to inflict on themselves all so they could put the right college’s bumper sticker on their cars. They’ve humiliated themselves and the children they purport to have been making all these “sacrifices” for.
The sense of White entitlement at work in all this is weapons-grade, and it’s important to dig a little deeper as to why. Those places at elite universities are highly coveted class markers. Those chips are supposed to be cashed in by White people of a certain status. It’s why Black people (of any socioeconomic status) getting them enrages a certain kind of person, why it’s viewed as theft. It’s why all the talk about test scores turns into discussions of “balanced student populations” when Asians start getting too many slots. It’s also why those Asian students and their families punch at the Black and Brown kids and not at Aunt Becky. These schemes are about protecting Whiteness and proximity to it as much as they are about individual access. There is corruption here that goes much deeper than parents paying off unscrupulous people to get their kids into these exclusive colleges. This corruption is rooted in White supremacy and classism. Male chauvinism is also at work. There’s a reason Bill McGlashan, the man who masterminded the criminal fraud we’ve been learning about and who is also a principal at one of the world’s most successful hedge funds, isn’t mentioned in much of the reporting, and two female actresses are the face of the scandal. It being coded as silly, ditzy. What’s being hidden is that for all its immorality, McGlashan’s scam is just a firmed up version of what goes on in high-stakes college admissions all the time. He removed the wink and the nod and stop cloaking it behind donations to the endowment. Individuals’ palms were greased. A deeper conversation about the exclusivity of these universities and who is meant to be kept out needs to be had.
I went to an Ivy — Princeton, and it’s a good school. It’s not worth all the debasement these people are putting themselves through, though. Even if you buy into the notion that it’s a “special” place that confers certain privileges on the graduates, those benefits are diminishing in value rapidly. Those kids who want to be Instagram influencers instead of going to college aren’t all lazy airheads. The world has changed. I don’t know that the Princetons of the world are the best place to prepare for what’s on the horizon. I can imagine a not-so-distant future where an Ivy League degree becomes a liability — a sign that you’re obedient and inflexible in circumstances that require quick pivots, too cerebral and esoteric when practicality is needed. These elite universities are also imperialist, colonialist spaces that are integral parts of the system of predatory capitalism that is devouring the planet. They are where the corporate raiders get their training and build their networks. They are where the old-school influencers (columnists and pundits) learned to talk out of both sides of their mouths. They are where society’s leaders learn that civility — a negative peace — is more important than justice. Elite universities are part of the problem — they keep the dumpster fire burning with the fuel of their artificially scarce resources and all their phony talk about meritocracy. More of us need to start to see past the façade.
The entire system of American college admissions is broken and has been for some time. It’s corrupt. And that’s before anyone even starts talking about the sky-high tuition and backbreaking student loans. The whole thing is a scam. Hopefully, the illegal fraud that’s been perpetrated in this latest #CollegeAdmissionScam shines more of a light on the legal racket that’s baked into the system.