Bribery Scandal Rocks Higher Education

Higher education has been rocked by the extraordinary crackdown on the purchasing of admissions into some of the country’s top universities and colleges by wealthy families. The scheme by William “Rick” Singer, 58, raked in as much as $2.5 million per student through his Edge College & Career Network. Schools have long catered to the families of major donors. Jared Kushner for example has long been accused of getting into Harvard with mediocre grades after his father pledged $2.5 million. This scandal however is far more organized and widespread. That is most striking about the sting operation code-named “Operation Varsity Blues” is that, among almost 50 arrested individuals, are the large number of parents who are being charged.

Singer has pleaded guilty to organizing the conspiracy to used contributions to a scam charity to bribe school officials, particularly coaches. Among the charged were 33 parents, 13 coaches, and various associates of Singer. They are a Who’s Who of the top one percent from famous actresses to powerful business figures. This is a display of unhinged greed by coaches who held top positions at top universities. One of the charged coaches was the private tennis instructor for Michele Obama and her two daughters.

There were also test administrators who took bribes in the conspiracy, which began in 2011. What is interesting is that this included arrangements for wrong answers to be corrected as well as having third persons take the test. Singer would ask the parents in advance what score they wanted the child to receive.

No students have been charged and will presumably be allowed to stay at their schools. In at least one case, parents asked how they could keep their children from knowing about their rigging the process.

However, given that some of the payments were made to have third parties take standardized tests for some students, it is hard to imagine how the students were not aware of that scheme since they either did not take the test or had some extraordinary improvement in a later test score. There were also photoshopped images and staged photos where students pretended to be athletes. It is hard to see how some of those acts were done without the knowledge of the students.

That leaves the question of what to do with the kinder. It seems to me that there is little choice but to expel students who had to have had knowledge of the scheme by the fact that they did not take the test or posed for fraudulent pictures. That would be a question of academic honesty. Ironically, people like Kushner did not lie. Their families gave a huge amount of money to the school which decided that the money made the admission worth the cost of admitting a less competitive student. Many would object to the transaction but schools have long favored donors who helped pay for buildings or scholarships.

Some of the named coaches have been fired. One was former Yale soccer coach Rudolph Meredith who allegedly accepted $400,000 to give applicants an edge by identifying them as recruits for the team. John Vandemoer, a former Stanford University sailing coach, has already pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy.

One glaring case involves the daughter of Actress Lori Loughlin. Olivia Jade, 19, was hardly enthusiastic about college, a sentiment shared with her large social media following. Yet Loughlin allegedly paid $500,000 to get her into the University of Southern California as well as her sister, Bella, 20. That money allegedly got the two daughters designated as recruits for the USC rowing team, even though neither is on the squad. Olivia then went on a video to her fans to discuss college and was asked, according to People, how she would balance her social media postings with college. The response is likely to be played back in court: “I don’t know how much of school I’m gonna attend but I’m gonna go in and talk to my deans and everyone, and hope that I can try and balance it all. But I do want the experience of like game days, partying. … I don’t really care about school, as you guys all know.”

Well, we all now know.

187 thoughts on “Bribery Scandal Rocks Higher Education”

  1. @anon-

    You make some strong points.

    A college admissions scandal is small ball stuff, except for one point. Scandals that undermine public faith in the integrity of our institutions have a corrosive effect on society overall. When we’re in a moralizing mood, it is what we call tone at the top. In a perverse way, scandals like this – where powerful rule breakers are called out in what appears to be a non-politicized way – play an outsized role in maintaining institutional integrity.

    In a small but highly visible way, the scandal underscores the importance of establishing and maintaining fault tolerant institutions. In business, we think about institutions like sound corporate governance and independent auditors. In government, it falls under the general heading of separation of powers and an independent press. Which brings me back full circle – its always them, not us!

  2. I’m not sure this incident leads to any big lessons. We know that some humans are susceptible to bribes – the coaches – and others to bribing – the parents – and we know we should guard against both behaviors. But that’s small ball stuff having nothing to do with the fact that some laces are better than others – duh! – and that a degree from them generally means prestige and higher incomes – duh! We’re not going to change that. Are the institutions at fault? Maybe they can keep a closer eye on their coaches and monitoring of the testing agencies.

    It’s important to note that all human institutions are imperfect and subject to problems inherent in their structure. You can’t escape that and witnessing the downsides does not mean they should be abandoned. It means they should be worked as close to perfection as we are able, but we should never expect that outcome. Isn’t that one of the principles of conservatism?

  3. Perhaps the most dangerous of all human failings is moral certitude. It is all the more ironic that the face of this scandal is the Hollywood elite. These are the same progressive social justice warriors who, with the connivance of the liberal media, shamelessly hector the great unwashed about their moral inferiority. All while stealing college admissions slots from kids that actually earned them. The irony is just too rich.

    The larger lesson is that any group — progressive, conservative, religious, secular, it doesn’t matter — with enough power and resources will coopt the system for their own benefit. Of course, it is much easier to see the moral failings of others than our own.

    On reflection, we should all be grateful that the founding fathers had the wisdom to recognize this fundamental aspect of human nature when devising the separation of powers inherent the Constitution. This scandal illustrates why the attacks on many of these structures — the electoral college, the latest supreme court packing proposals, limits on executive authority, by way of example — are dangerous to a diverse and tolerant society.

    1. You had me until the last sentence when you used your argument to advance your partisan political viewpoints.
      Specifically, the electoral college has given us 3 terms of GOP presidents when they have only won one popular vote since 1992, and along with that a conservative court which is supposed to represent popular will through the presidents who appoint them. If the shoe was on your foot, you’d be howling mad, demanding reform, and you know it. As to limits on executive authority – come on!

      1. “Specifically, the electoral college has given us 3 terms of GOP presidents when they have only won one popular vote since 1992,…”

        The Founders did not think the President should be elected by popular vote, so it is working exactly as intended. It’s not that hard to comprehend the reasons why it is a brilliant system which gives everyone in the country a voice, not just the elites in two coastal states.

        1. By definition, you favor elections by elites – preferred minorities of your choice. “Everyone” in the country includes the majority, however constituted.

          By the way, nothing in the constitution mandates the winner take all process all but a few states practice. The college was a compromise offered to slaveholder states to get their signatures on the constitution. That’s the “founders” you are celebrating, not some genius planners who thought of everything.

          1. PS More to the immediate point, the GOP hates executive action until their guy uses it ti the extreme and their defense of the electoral college would melt in 5 hours if they lost 1, let alone 2 presidencies to popular vote losers like W and Trump. Bank on it.

        2. The Electoral College favors empty states like Wyoming and the Dakotas. Which coincidentally favors Whites in small towns. But we’re supposed to think that’s ‘good’ because only ‘elites’ live in coastal cities.

            1. How many EC votes does Wyoming have? And how many does California have?

              I rest my case. And don’t start whining that “they said there would be no math!!”.

              1. California, with 40 million people, has 55 Electoral College Votes.

                Wyoming, with 600,000 people, has 3 Electoral College Votes

                So if California got 3 Electoral College Votes for every 600,000 people that would come out to 66, 11 more than the current 55.

              2. Number of eligible voters each electoral college vote represents:
                Wyoming – 142,741
                California – 508,344

                1. California has more people than the 20 smallest states combined!

                  Yet those 20 smallest states have more Electoral College Votes than California and New York combined.

                  1. Well, that settles it then. Let California run the country. They’re obviously quite brilliant at it.

      2. @ Anon
        The Supreme Court does not and should not reflect the popular the popular will. The elected branches do that. The Court functions to interpret the law. Often this will place the Court with the majority as in interpretations of law enacted by the democratic branches of government. But the Constitution is the supreme law, the law that defines the legislative and executive powers. The Court’s most important opinions protect minority rights against overreaching democratic majorities when they enact laws that violate the Constitution. The Court fails most when, in deference to the president or Congress, it fails to strike down laws that infringe upon our natural rights, the privileges and immunities of US citizens, in violation of the Constitution.

        1. I agree with the principles you state and the importance of minority rights protection, which ultimately is up to the courts. However, the constitution grants the appointment of those seats to the President – with the advise and consent of the Senate – who will be elected, not appointed. The intent that will of the people be thereby expressed is obvious, though with the protections you mention. A minority of voters were not meant to hold sway as they have in our last two decades, and that unequal dominance is not a minority right.

      3. Specifically, the electoral college has given us 3 terms of GOP presidents when they have only won one popular vote since 1992,

        Two terms, Barbie. And neither Democratic candidate in question won a majority vote. Math is hard.

        1. For you maybe. Without the 2000 election, W would not have been running as an incumbent during a war. Advantage incumbent Al Gore.

    2. @Anon and @JR – You are both making my point. Power is a most blessed tool when it is in our hands, but a dangerous menace when held by the other guy. Limits on power protect me from you. Or not so importantly (at least to me anyway), you from me. The catch is that neither of us knows exactly why we’ll need that protection, or when. But someday, like death and taxes, we will.

      Take the electoral college and executive power examples, which seem to have caught the attention of Anon. The system worked as it should when President Clinton won the electoral college with a plurality, yet it was an abomination when Bush and Trump won with only a minority. Or we despised it when Obama used the pen and phone advance his objectives, yet cheer when Trump undoes them through executive order. Or vice versa, depending on what year it is and where we stand on the policy outcome. The same goes for court packing, prosecutorial discretion, the secret FISA courts and yes, even the small potatoes of college admissions.

      I had a pragmatic and wise criminal law professor who once said that we love the laws on “subject xx” as a matter of principle, but it’s another thing entirely when they’re applied against our kids. It is very had to separate the concepts of limited power and desire for policy outcomes, but the integrity of our institutions depends on it.

      Fortunately a lot of the big picture stuff is baked into the Constitution, and its very hard to change. Not that smart partisans — from either side — don’t spend their waking hours figuring how to work around it. OMG crisis hurry fix it now stat while there’s still time!!!! Or not.

      1. The difference between a plurality and a minority of votes is more than spelling, and the minority has no protected right to choose our president..As to the constitution, like the definition of what fraction of a human a slave equals, the electoral college was a compromise with slave states, not some grand principle about minority rights. Finally, there is no constitutional basis for the winner take all allocation of electoral votes which most states follow and which exacerbates the already tilted playing field that the small and mostly red states enjoy.

    3. Ah, R Burns, is it Richard Burns? Who’s Dick Burns in here? remember that one from SNL

      anyhow– the larger LARGER lesson, is that ALL GROUPS COMPETE FOR RESOURCES. for survival and thriving. that is not “coopting” and losing principles, that IS THE OPERATIVE PRINCIPLE ITSELF. … the struggle for existence.

      do groups follow social rules, laws, ethics, etc? break them? Again, it’s groups that make the rules in the first place. And when they get powerful enough, yes, they change them. Usually to suit their own group.

      Generally, this is only a problem if you are not in the winning group. lol

  4. Kids from “old money” get in because of legacy, daddy or mumsy or their parents attended the elite school. Now kids from “new money” want in, too, or at least their parents want them in. Some buy new buildings, some buy SAT scores or photos of their unathletic kids’ heads on photos of real athletes. Meanwhile, the rest of us have to be satisfied with state schools, missing out on the prestige and networking of the elite school.

    1. “Meanwhile, the rest of us have to be satisfied with state schools, missing out on the prestige and networking of the elite school.”

      We are not poor but also not wealthy. We’ve built no buildings at colleges and cannot afford to bribe coaches. Yet our daughter is an Ivy League graduate, and our son is studying engineering at an elite private university. Upward mobility lives on.

      1. I have two nieces who graduated from non-elite Catholic universities. Both are in their mid-20s and are doing exceptionally well financially. The older one graduated from Loyola with an undergrad double major in psychology and statistics. Then she earned a master’s in statistics. She works for a private company doing some type of statistical analysis and makes very good $. She’s already repaid her student loans and is buying a condo. The younger one graduated last year from the Univ of San Fran with a degree in accounting and passed the CPA exam. She’s working for a major accounting firm in S.F. And her husband, an immigrant from Ukraine, has a bachelors and masters in computer science from the decidedly non-elite Sacramento State. Prior to receiving his master’s, he was recruited by Blue Cross at a starting salary of $120,000 to work in their cyber-security division, protecting medical records from hackers. Thus degrees in select subjects have immense earning power regardless of the granting institution.

  5. REVELATIONS ARE A GIFT..

    TO PROPONENTS OF AFFIRMATIVE ACTION

    For years conservatives have said racial quotas should have no bearing on college admissions. The idea has been that racial quotas somehow ‘cheapen’ or ‘dilute’ the admissions process.

    Conservatives have even argued that high-achieving students of color become ‘victims’ of racial quotas because the existence of said quotas cast doubts on their achievements. The doubts, of course, are usually coming from conservatives (as Barrack Obama can attest).

    But now we learn what has always been suspected: ‘Wealthy, privileged families use various schemes and pay-offs to get their children admitted to the finest universities’. Cynics might assert that this scandal is just the tip of the iceberg.

    Conservatives might argue that wealthy families deserve a break because they have been ‘over-taxed by big government’. Republicans have, in fact, tried to address this ‘injustice’ by granting $1.5 trillion in tax relief to the richest families. Those tax cuts, are of course, driving deficit spending to levels never seen during peacetime expansions. But one has to ‘understand’ how ‘burdened’ the wealthy were.

    1. There are wealthy black families in the US. And there are poor white families. The question of whether racial quotas are needed should be answered “no” by these facts.
      Rather, we should design our “social mobility” programs in a post-racial manner…focussing on actual need, not skin color.

        1. 33 parents were arrested in this bribery scandal. Big rip. Compare that to the hundreds of thousands admitted under affirmative action over the past half-century. The biggest loser of AA programs is you, the taxpayer. Because virtually all of the AA lawyers won’t be able to cut it in private practice and will end up working for the government. Where they will use their mediocre brains to interpret Federal and state laws and regulations impacting our nation.

  6. Perhaps we in America put too much emphasis on “higher education”. Then too much on higher “ranked” colleges and universities. Then too much on the “graduate” and degree holder. Yeah, ya need to go to law school now to be a lawyer and not just be a person who works in the office of a lawyer to learn, like Lincoln did. Yeah we need to train people to be teachers so they can train people to read. But all this “Harvard and Yale” religion is too much.
    If I had a kid I would build a business for him or her to run when they were 20 or so. I would send them to the community college to learn about the world and to a nearby state four year school to learn more. But no MBA. No fluff. No frat.

  7. This is huge. But the implications for all private colleges are scary. All private college education is based on the ranking from the “elite” and sanctified select ones at the top. Why should the admissions process that we have now survive at all? It was said that the only thing of value in an ivy league education was getting admitted in the first place. That won’t fly any more. And why should a wealthy alumnus even WANT to be associated with them any more?

    1. Only 33 parents arrested after a multi-year investigation by the FBI and IRS involving hundreds of federal agents? Not exactly “huge.” A trifling waste of taxpayer money is more like it.

      1. meanwhile, there are millions of old people getting fleeced in fraud every day. with email spam, telephone fraud, etc. and only the feds can address all that wire fraud and they generally don’t bother. but they have a nice list of suggestions:

        https://www.fbi.gov/scams-and-safety/common-fraud-schemes/telemarketing-fraud

        instead of seriously punishing wire fraud, they tolerate it, divert resources into working on a sexy case going after actors and ivy league whatever etc. dumb!

  8. There’s no way “the children” didn’t know their parents were pulling strings for them. They must think we’re stupid to believe that claim. The kids were part of the athletic and SAT sandal otherwise they would’ve protested their parents. Kids that age aren’t stupid but they can be lazy from the sounds of it. Parents having to hire college admission counselors to fill out their kids’ applications is outrageous. Do it yourselves.

    The children need to be expelled from college to allow honest kids to apply. I wonder where Hollywood is now on this scandal of their own? I’m hearing crickets from them. Just waiting for them to come up with an angle that involves blaming Trump for this scandal.

  9. This is the same group of elite who will be out on the 2020 campaign trail telling us how great the Demosocialist are. After hearing this Olivia I wonder how many parents continued to pay the universities to keep these kids in school. Had no idea that these schools offered degrees in Stupidity.

  10. That Jared Kushner’s family has been accused of X doesn’t mean they actually did it. There are no limits these days to what political partisans will conjure from their imaginations and try to peddle as ‘fact’. What was his class rank at Harvard?

    You have several problems here. One is that people who hold degrees from these institutions see their degrees devalued as the institution’s brand is injured. The other would be the injury to the institutions, whose reputation has suffered and whose employees were in business for themselves at the expense of their employers. The third would be the aspirant clientele of the institutions, who were treated unfairly. Another would be the parents, who paid good money for what is really pottage. Another would be the society in general, as we see an instance where things were not what they seemed to be.

    Bribery of private parties is properly punished, if not as harshly as bribery of public officials. You shouldn’t have any scruples about taking the fruits of it away from the families in question, which means the youths in question must be told to enroll elsewhere.

    Thomas Sowell has for years offered the theses that the work of admissions officers is largely hooey and that the use of people of the sort you find there employed to screen applications is nonsensical He suggested trustees try an experiment. (1) Randomly assign applicants to one of two pools. Half the slots in the freshmen class would be allocated to each pool. One pool would be screened by the admissions’ office customary methods. The other pool would be rank-ordered according to a vector equation which included high school GPA and College Board scores as arguments. After 4 years, assess the two pools. Who did better? (Sowell’s wager is that the latter pool would do better).

    Sowell’s suggestion wouldn’t remedy the effects of cheating on standardized tests, but it would remove other corruptions and inanities from the system.

    Here’s some suggestions:

    1. End all public subsidies for private higher education. Have these institutions finance themselves with endowment income, private donations, tuition, room-and-board charges, and miscellaneous commercial service charges (not compelled from students, but optional).

    2. Have federal law require that any school recruiting across state lines make use of a standard billing format and disclose all charges in their promotional material. Incorporated within this would be an end to mandatory charges for anything but tuition and room-and-board.

    3. Require all schools recruiting students across state lines make disclosures about the stock and flow of students admitted. Such disclosures should be audited by certified statisticians, much as financial statements have to be certified by CPAs. Among the required disclosures would be the median college board scores of the student body as a whole and those of each coarse racial category among those admitted (along with the proportions of each category among the student body and the attrition rate of each).

    4. Require like disclosures in regard to faculty hired. The median GRE, GMAT, LSAT, and MCAT scores of your faculty and each racial category on your faculty should be public information (along with the racial breakdown among the faculty).

    5. Amend state corporation law to require that boards of trustees be elected by a postal ballot of alumni registered to vote in the state in question, elections which would be supervised by a state board. You could offer some dispensations to this rule, but this would be the general rule.

    1. One other thing: allow schools to reconstitute their athletic departments as commercial affiliates. Allow such schools to hire professionals to play for the school.

  11. Just how stupid are these children? The most expensive private schools, unlimited personal tutoring, professional application writers, every possible connection and elite name dropped…and they aren’t accepted into mildly selective universities?

    1. Ivy League schools aren’t ‘mildly selective’. They reject over 90% of all applications and collectively enroll fewer than 2% of all students at baccalaureate-granting institutions.

    2. The schools listed were “Yale University, the University of Southern California, Georgetown University, UCLA, Wake Forest University, Stanford University, the University of San Diego and the University of Texas, Austin. ” The University of San Diego accepts about 1/2 it’s applicants. For the others, the acceptance rate ranged from 7% to 36%. These aren’t mildly selective schools.

  12. Makes one wonder what else was written off as charitable donations on the tax returns. Maybe the IRS CID should take a peek. There could be more deductions that are not allowable….And possibly illegal, resulting in heavy fines & jail time.

    1. C’mon. It’s a two-digit population in an a set of schools which have a six-figure population of applicants each year. And the smart money says this was parent-driven.

      1. Undoubtedly, but apples don’t roll far from the tree. If you saw that bubblehead daughter on the Telly last night you get my drift.

        1. mespo…..I agree…and isn’t she the one who got a scholarship for the school’s rowing team, but had never been in a scull?
          Honestly!!

  13. In a way, I’m not sure I see the problem here. The single brain celled, Olivia Jade, would have most likely flunked out ant way. And do we really think money doesn’t buy “things”? I think this story ultimately plays on our envy. Focus on yourself and you will be alright.

      1. I’m not against recognizing it, but I wouldn’t let it bother me. If someone wants to cheat through life, let them, it will catch up to them eventually. If you heard Olivia Jade talk you would come to quickly realize that she is no threat to your earned intelligence. Yes she will will be famous, rich or whatever, but who cares? Enjoy your life knowing that you deserved what you accomplished all the while watching Olivia Jade, become a drop out, have a drug problem, go through several marriages, be a single mom, or whatever train wreck ride she is on.

    1. A very simple test to determine if a problem actually exists is to ask if this scandal infringed the natural rights of others not involved?

      Of course the answer would be yes. The same should apply to affirmative action admission policies.

  14. Expell all the students regardless of their knowledge of the scheme. Void all theirs grades. Let the parents explain it to them.

    Problem solved.

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