Operation Varsity Blues
When it broke that Lori Loughlin of Full House was being indicted for allegedly paying the University of Southern California $500,000 to guarantee her admission, I think most of us were a little shocked. Surprised that it happened? Perhaps some of us. But to most, the shock came from the government actually identifying that this was finally institutionally illegal.
Hey USC, sounds like you’ve got a real winner, there. I bet the professors found it an absolute joy to have her in their classes.
It has always been morally wrong. We have always collectively known it was happening. Daddy buys the university a “wing” or a new library so that son or daughter can attend, no questions asked. Whether they are an A student with strong SAT scores, or a D student slacker with stats far below the average accepted applicant who gains acceptance into that school. And that $500,000 “donation” (re: bribe) denies another student who actually worked hard and got the grades/SAT scores to get in.
You’ve Been Waitlisted…for us to make room for that bonus check
The university actually had to take the physical file of a good candidate – your sister, your brother, your daughter, your cousin, your friend. They took their application, personal letter, essay, transcripts, everything about that person that would have been above the cut to say, you’re absolutely good enough to go here, and we would like you to be in our program, and tossed it in the ‘no’ pile. They denied them to make a place for that privileged kid whose parents undeservedly bribed their way in. Now multiply that by the amount of wealthy students, and you see how big this problem might be (depending on how many wealthy people have integrity).
The mantra of “If you work hard enough, you can do anything” is tainted here. If you work hard enough, and you come from a background with enough means, or if you have connections, you can probably do anything sounds a bit more accurate. And ironically where was daughter Olivia Jade Giannulli when the story broke about mom Lori Loughlin being indicted for this bribe (I think they’re actually calling it mail fraud)? Apparently on a USC Board of Trustee’s yacht, according to TMZ.
Lori’s scheme with USC included making it appear like her daughter was a rower to recruit her as an athlete to USC’s rowing team, giving the $500K as a guarantee (“donation”) for admission. And if you want some of the tea, here’s a former classmate of Olivia Jade’s to spill some out.
But it wasn’t just Lori Loughlin they went after. There were 50 people total so far charged in the bribery scheme at big name school like Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, University of Texas, UCLA, University of San Diego, and Wake Forest. Also caught up in the scandal was actress Felicity Huffman, who allegedly paid an admissions counselor at the heart of the scandal, William Singer to help her oldest daughter get into college with low SAT scores, including having a different student re-take the SATs for her. Sneaky!
The College Players
Parents were allegedly paying hundreds of thousands up to millions to get their kids in through what Singer called “the side door”. Falsely identifying the kids as athletes including doctoring photos to add their face to another athlete’s body; sending the students to other states to take SATs/ACTs where officials were bribed to correct the incorrect answers to improve that student’s scores; identifying one student as learning disabled so he’d get a test proctor who’d been bribed to give him the correct answers to his standardized test. With wealth comes over-privilege.
Until now it was pretty much accepted that “donation” was the way college admissions worked for the wealthy. Maybe not to the extreme of testing fraud or fake sport participation, but it’s all in the same category of buying and cheating your way in. It’s just buying someone else in the system. So the fact that no protests or riots out in the street happened….no movements or public outcries came before the feds broke the widespread sting of wealthy parents and universities giving and taking large sum bribes for admission is a bit bewildering.
You mean you all (Feds) did this on your own, identifying that it was wrong, like illegal wrong…. without any prompting from the public masses? Slow golf clap in order, guys!
The Fallout – What’s Happened So Far
Coaches, colleges, and students
Coaches allegedly involved have been fired or put on leave by their universities, and schools are reviewing their enrolled students to identify anyone else who was possibly involved. It remains to be seen what will actually happen to these students. Will they be expelled? Put on probation? While it’s clear some of the students were aware of the cheating, it is not clear whether others were complicit or aware of what was happening.
Facing jail time
Mr. Singer, the ringleader of the scams has pleaded guilty to counts of racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and obstruction of justice in federal court on Tuesday. The judge set sentencing for June 19, and Singer was released on a $500,000 bond. The rest of the 50 participants all face charges in the schemes and we’ll see how bad the repercussions get.
Students and parents are suing
As they should, students who had competitive scores and merits to be accepted were denied a fair opportunity to compete for a position at the schools.
Parents involved are getting fired.
Lori Loughlin was fired from the Hallmark Channel. Mr. McGlashan was terminated by the private equity firm TPG . Gordon Caplan, co-chairman of the global law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher, was placed on leave while his management responsibilities were stripped. Doug Hodge, the retired chief exec of Pimco, one of the world’s largest bond fund managers, was removed from the investment firm’s website.
Admission has already been rescinded from several students submitting applications as the universities investigate the current application season.
My Own Brush with A College’s Breach of Trust for Cash
How often does this happen?
I remember all to clearly the sting of realizing the educational institution that I held in such high esteem…that I hard been SO proud to be accepted into for grad school was really just a business more than an academic institution. Money was its game. When that realization hit me, it hit hard. It was devastating to realize that all the pride of work, all the ideals, the values of integrity and the honor code were just being mirrored back at me – not actually espoused by the institution itself. They were simply platitudes they knew we expected to hear. Especially those of us who lived by them.
I attended one of the most expensive programs at George Washington University, at $1,500 per credit hour (not intentionally for that title – I like keeping my money). From the very beginning I was impressed by the calibre of students I was surrounded by. These were professionals, and when I was paired or grouped for work, I usually had solid, smart peers who were just as willing to put the time and work in to make sure the assignments were correctly completed.
In our final capstone, we were grouped into 6 for a major project. I LOVED my group, several of whom I’d worked with before and knew their work ethic. We were going to kill it. Little did we know that this capstone was not only going to end our time at GWU in a horrible way, but it would taint how I would see the entire university for the rest of my life. There was one student who I had never worked with. I discovered early that she was plagiarizing her work (as many of us were using similar sources), as well as putting in very little time or effort into the project.
If you’ve been to grad school, you know that it pretty much requires locking yourself in your office and spending hours on end researching, writing, calculating, working, collaborating, revising, executing, etc. And a coffee IV. So someone half-assing usually ends up in poor grades and people dropping far before they get to capstone. In group work, it could literally mean failure for the rest of the team, or considerable additional hours for other people away from their jobs and family when you already feel like you never see them anymore.
Oh, the Irony
Now, here’s where it gets just mind blowing. Professors and academic institutions always pound the honor code at the beginning of every class, every semester. Cheating will not be tolerated. Zero tolerance on plagiarism. This professor even addressed having issues with team members on the first day of the capstone. He told the class that there was nothing that he could do if it was brought up during the feedback session at the end. We must bring it to him when he was time to do something about it. He listed examples like people not pulling their weight, a team member not participating, a team member plagiarizing, a team member not following the academic integrity code, etc. – he would certainly address it swiftly and take action as long as it was brought up to him during the semester. So, ok bro, now’s your time to act!
We brought it up about 1/3 of the way through the course. He said try to work it out. We brought it up 1/2 way through the semester when she did not change her behavior. He said he talked to her, try to work it from there. We brought it up a few weeks later. He said he’d have her do her own work. Plus he said he didn’t understand why we waited so long to bring this to his attention.
Honor code, my bootie.
Plus her response every time we brought it up was that she wanted us to write it ourselves. When we told him this, it didn’t seem to be a big deal to him. At the end of the capstone, he allowed this student to present separate work, which was still plagiarized. When she presented that work that was clearly plagiarized, we were sure he would fail her, because it was obvious to us that her work 1) looked like the quality of a 3rd grader, and 2) was clearly plagiarized. Clearly. Very. Clearly. Plagiarized.
But that week, she walked in the graduation, wearing her cap and gown with the rest of us. On a day where this group had worked so hard (grad school is hell, especially if you’re working full time), all of our work felt like it had almost been done for nothing. Not only had we worked hard, but we had a very negative experience throughout that entire semester, simply trying to get someone to do a reasonable percentage of the original portion of their work. We divided the work fairly in the beginning and after realizing how little she was going to do and how much she was fighting us on it, we were constantly battling to get her to do even a tiny amount while the rest of us pulled soooooo much more than our fair share. This issue could have been taken care of VERY early by the professor doing the right thing based on the HONOR CODE. But it’s all about the benjamins. The school would have a very big issue on their hands if a professional was going to be denied their graduation in their final semester after paying $1,500 per credit hour.
So you see, the rest of us were playing this game all wrong.
Because there was someone there that did almost nothing all semester, and she was standing right there with us, getting the exact same reward for all her “hard work”. And GWU assumed there would be hell to pay if they didn’t push her on through even though she hadn’t earned it. So that’s what they quietly did. Feeding the rest of us a very bitter pill to swallow as we slowly realized what was happening every time we asked the question and got vague answers back.
Almost everyone in our program (in and out of our group, as word had spread fast!) felt slighted that she was graduating with the same degree. It made ours feel hollow. Stories started emerging amongst the classmates of how she’d cheated in previous classes and nothing had been done there either, or that she had been carried on the backs of other students doing the work for her as well. Yet here those in-the-know all let her stand and walk in the procession. The George Washington University professors, the administrators. It felt like our degrees meant nothing in comparison now. I made the best of that day and for the most part, it was a joyful experience. I did still feel accomplished. I got my degree. I survived. It was over. But when each of us saw her, we groaned and scowled, uttering curses to each other.
Heed the call – It’s not as prestigious as you think.
My pride in being a GWU alum was never the same after that. And I can imagine it feels much the same right now for some of the students at the universities caught in this scandal. Especially those innocent who happen to have money – an odd subset who will likely be looked at with scrutiny and feel those questioning eyes around them wondering if they belong there.
But for the rest of the community, this is a welcomed break from a “good old boys” tradition. The have-nots, the underprivileged, the POC – they all get to finally say to the people who bought their way in “No YOU don’t belong here. I earned my way in.”