On the afternoon before Yale decisions were released, my dad turned to me and said resignedly, “Well son, at least we’ve got a plan moving forward.” “We don’t know anything yet,” I offered sheepishly.
Part of what makes getting into college so nerve-wracking is that we all believe, to some extent, that our admissions are reflections of our merit. In that sense, getting into college is a reflection of our actions — if we’ve achieved enough, we get in. If others have done more than we have, then we don’t and have only ourselves to blame. The college admissions industry has cultivated a widespread belief in meritocracy. It’s what allows admissions to feel like a reflection of our worth. It’s what makes us feel like, if we get in, that we deserved to.
Yale College Dean Marvin Chun apparently agrees. In his March 25 email response to the revelations of Yale’s implication in admissions fraud, Chun reminded us of the “extraordinary efforts [we] made” and the “obstacles we overcame” to get into Yale. Chun was sure to emphasize our “talents” and “abilities,” reassuring us that our belief in meritocratic admissions is still warranted.
Retired soccer coach Rudy Meredith — who, incidentally, will likely be warming a very different kind of bench for the next several years — is scheduled to appear in court for the first time today, March 28. According to the lawsuit, Meredith accepted bribes in exchange for athletic merit recruits to the women’s soccer team. The real beneficiary, though, was Rick Singer — the leader of a for-profit admissions company called The Key. Singer received millions of dollars to falsify his clients’ applications, deceiving several universities in the process.
When it comes to duping the admissions meritocracy, one can either break the law or be unethical. Both, unsurprisingly, involve money. Where that money goes, though, and what kind of advantage it can buy you, makes all the difference.
In the former case, absurdly rich parents lie about their children’s athletic credentials to seem more appealing to schools. Take Olivia Jade, whose “I hate school!” Twitter account probably should have been warning enough to the University of Southern California. But now, USC has a “rower” who’s probably never touched an ergometer in her life. All this for a few hundred thousand dollars paid to The Key. This method of bribery is strictly illegal.
In the latter case, however, Yale allows plus factors for children of significant donors. There is a distinction between what Lori Loughlin did and what large donors do, but it’s a narrow distinction at best. Technically, the donors aren’t bribing Yale’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions, and Yale isn’t breaking any law. But Yale is still sanctioning the unethical. Giving an advantage to children of donors erodes the admissions meritocracy on which our University depends. When social structures that we believe in, like admissions, perform unethical deeds, it undermines those systems’ principles, breaking a kind of social law.
The distinction between the Loughlins of the world and the, say, the Schwarzmans of the world is consequently a petty one. We have a deep-seated antagonism towards almost all kinds of preferential treatment in admissions — whenever and wherever we see them. Those who bribed their way into Yale are merely more visible to us. As for Stephan Schwarzman ’69? Well, at least we got a building out of his tithe.
It’s all brilliant, really, because the college admissions industry is set to balloon to over $100 billion this year. College admissions cultivates a reliance on meritocracy, while capitalism commodifies the ladders needed to ascend it.
And it’s here that the admissions scandal dives even deeper into the depths of the foul.
In one case, when The Key was curating a Yale-worthy soccer profile, it worked with a USC coach from whom it requested a a “very good” player, it said. “Probably [an] asian girl.” This is the most insidious aspect of the entire “side door” approach. When people buy and lie their way into schools, they are forced to anticipate the best way of appealing to that school. In this situation, The Key flippantly brushed over the entire experience of a minority group for the sake of benefiting from their supposed “oppression points,” a scenario both reductive and repugnant. More poignantly though, it reveals an abuse of the meritocratic social system to which we give so much credence. If being Asian can help my chances, the thinking goes, “Name your price.”
What to do, then, with those who are admitted under false pretenses? They must have their admissions rescinded immediately. In the cases of students who didn’t know about their parents’ schemes, they should be allowed to reapply to their schools only in the most charitable cases. On this, I think University President Peter Salovey has fully delivered — something we should all be thankful for.
I don’t fault my dad for doubting that I’d get into Yale, for Pete’s sake, I myself didn’t think I’d get in into Yale. You’d be a fool to rest easy with admissions to a place like Yale. Unless of course, your bank account was $400,000 lighter after your last check paid to the order of Rick Singer.
Sammy Landino is a sophomore in Grace Hopper College. His column runs every other Thursday . Contact him at email@example.com .