College cheats go the limit

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Does the college admissions scandal seem a little canned to you? I don’t mean the people charged are innocent. I mean, this scam so fits our image of how things actually work, it’s hard to maintain a presumption of innocence for these people, especially since they seem to be pleading guilty left and right. Moreover, they lay out their public confessions of guilt practically before the feds file their indictments. What’s going on here?

My first reaction, when the scandal broke in the news, was well, at last the FBI is spending its time on something worthwhile. Even here, though, they go for the public relations spin, rather than just do their job. They have a fancy, slanty graphic that appears everywhere on the internet – where the hell did that come from? You can’t even find it when you search Google to discover its source. All news focuses on the movie stars and their beautiful children, even though last count shows more than fifty people involved.

Who cares about the College Board people who took bribes to let people cheat on the test? Are they on television? How motivated will high school juniors and seniors be now to prepare for a high stakes test that they know is rigged? You work hours and hours to take practice exams, you pay a test prep center or tutor big money to teach you how to handle the time pressure and the tricky questions, and then you find out the test administrators have already picked the winners! Congratulations, Sandy, you received the highest possible score! Welcome to the school of your choice. For all you other hopefuls who thought your hard work would come to something, you can suck hind tit. Go to the back of the line.

You can count on the FBI to make the most of its public relations opportunities. Wouldn’t you think an agency that is so secretive would go a little easier on the self-advertisements? These people are constantly f**king up, yet they call out the trumpets when they grab a couple of movie stars, as if we won’t notice their over-eager quest for a little good news. In this case, the attorney general presses for investigations into the FBI’s activities during the 2016 election – spying on the Trump campaign in particular – just about the time DOJ announces its big coup against Loughlin and Huffman. My, look what those agents uncovered! They protect us from wealthy status grubbers.

The most head-scratching factor is how quickly the judicial process moves in this case. It feels as if the feds had a lot set up beforehand. Most cases develop more slowly. Here, it seems as if the defendants want to plead guilty, as quickly as possible, though I’m not sure why anyone would want to plead guilty to a felony that has prison time attached as quickly as possible. The feds must say, take the deal right now, or we’ll put you away for a decade. The feds do know how to orchestrate their publicity, but law and enforcement and boasting don’t mix. We like our gumshoes to be modest, competent, and polite. I would not use any of those adjectives to describe our friends at the FBI.

I do feel sorry for all those people who work hard, yet see their putative betters get ahead. If you graduate from a name college, you’ll be better than others for the rest of your life. That’s why a bribe of half a mill is worth it: it’s a long-term investment! I do think half a million is a little steep for a seat at USC, but if you want to overpay for modest prestige, that’s up to you.

Traditionally, we thought that even if wealthy families had an advantage in college admissions, schools collectively offered enough seats each fall to accommodate everyone who wanted to attend college. You can reconcile yourself to a little disappointment, if you believe the admissions process is a crapshoot. Then you find out the game is rigged to such a degree, it’s a crapshoot with weighted dice.

You get snake eyes or some other low number, because your parents do not have big money to ship off to William Singer. You will just have to attend Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, or some other small campus in flyover country.  I do not want to suggest Coe College is a poor school. To the contrary: yet if you live in L. A., you do not want to send your daughter out to the corn fields for four years, no matter how pretty the Great Plains. People who go to college there do not become movie stars.

So you can understand parents’ motivations well enough. If you have the money, spend it for your child’s welfare, especially if you judge chances of getting caught as small. The strange part is that prestigious schools rolled these bribes into their athletic fundraising. Fundraising on the athletic side has always drawn skepticism about its purity – ask Rick Pitino about that – but still. Do schools want to make bribes of that size part of their revenue, on the chance no one will notice? All it takes is one parent to report what’s going on, to bring your school down, and make it look like a racketeering operation. How is that worth it?

Remember Clueless, set in wealthy L. A. suburbs, but without the scandal? The main character, Cher, considers her high school report card a rough draft, and negotiates her grades up a notch or two every semester. Her wealthy father, an attorney, says he could not be prouder. The difference is that Cher talks to her teachers, and uses her winning smile as she pleads her case. She offers occasional compliments, but not bribes. If you want to be proud of your children, encourage them to get ahead. Teach them how to do it. Do not bribe people to make things easy for them.


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