Tarna Zander

In March 2019, federal prosecutors announced that they charged nearly 50 people, among them celebrities and university athletic coaches, with paying or accepting bribes to help admit students to elite universities. Yale was among those universities implicated in the nationwide college admissions scandal, nicknamed “Operation Varsity Blues.” 

Authorities had dubbed it the largest admissions scandal ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice. In addition to other individuals, the lawsuit accused Rudy Meredith — former head coach of the Yale women’s soccer team — of “accepting bribes in exchange for designating applicants to Yale as recruits for the Yale women’s soccer team, and thereby facilitating their admission to the university.” Rudy was in charge of the program for 24 years and resigned in November 2018.

“Everyone regrets the illegal activity,” University spokesman Tom Conroy wrote in an email to the News. “The University, however, has been responding to it appropriately and keeping the community informed in a timely manner.”

The scandal centered around a for-profit admissions company based in California, owned by William “Rick” Singer. According to prosecutors, Singer allegedly received $25 million in bribes from parents to help children cheat on college entrance exams and pass money to varsity coaches. Other universities implicated in the scandal include Stanford University, Georgetown University and the University of Southern California.

The FBI and the Department of Justice announced that Meredith was accused of accepting a $400,000 bribe from Singer in exchange for using a recruitment space on the women’s soccer team for a student who did not play soccer. Meredith also allegedly attempted to receive a $450,000 bribe independent of Singer on another occasion. Only one of the two applicants given the falsified endorsements was admitted. However, after the University became aware of the scheme, the student’s admission was later rescinded. 

Shortly after the charges were announced, Meredith pled guilty to wire fraud and conspiracy charges in the U.S. District Court in Boston. He publicly admitted to taking bribes totaling almost one million dollars to vouch for several Yale applicants looking to gain admissions into the University as recruits to the Yale women’s soccer team. 

According to prosecutors, a Los Angeles-based individual tipped off federal investigators about Meredith’s acceptance of bribes in order to gain leniency for an unrelated securities fraud case. The Wall Street Journal reported that this individual is financial executive and Yale father Morrie Tobin. Government lawyers said that the first time they heard the name William “Rick” Singer was when Meredith mentioned it in a taped conversation between Meredith and the Los Angeles-based individual.

When the scandal first went public, the Yale Office of Undergraduate Admissions deferred comments to Yale’s Office of Public Affairs and Communications, which released a statement saying that the admissions office was “the victim of a crime perpetrated by its women’s soccer coach, who is no longer at the university.”

“The Office of Undergraduate Admissions relies on varsity coaches to provide honest and expert evaluations of individual applicants’ athletic accomplishments and potential to contribute to a varsity team,” the statement continued. “The Admissions Committee considers these evaluations alongside the other components of an applicant’s file, but only students whose applications demonstrate their ability to succeed in the academic and residential components of the Yale experience are admitted.”

President Peter Salovey, in a community-wide email sent in March 2019, called the criminal actions undertaken by Meredith, in coordination with Singer, “an affront to our community’s deeply held values of fairness, inclusion, and honesty.” He wrote that the University would be initiating “a number of actions to make sure we understand the full impact of this criminal scheme on our university and to protect our admissions processes in the future.”

These actions included Yale conducting its own independent review of the admissions system, implementing new policies and actions regarding the oversight and assessment of Yale Athletics coaching staff by Director of Yale Athletics Vicky Chun and creating a new “code of conduct for athletic recruitment,” implemented by Chun and Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Jeremiah Quinlan. Since that email, the University has announced other policies, like the admissions office beginning to audit a sample of its applications each year, to preserve the integrity of the admissions process. 

“Operation Varsity Blues” sparked conversations on campus regarding privilege in the admissions process. But all faculty members interviewed by the News who commented on the integrity of the University’s admissions process said that students in their classes had clearly been selected for their merit, as opposed to solely on the basis of athletic recruitment or a family donation. Further, in a survey conducted by the News in response to the scandal, students reaffirmed their support of Yale’s holistic review admissions process but said that their view of the University worsened because of the scandal. 

Lauren Quintela

“My colleagues and I are dismayed by the allegations against the former Yale coach and are deeply upset that a member of the Yale community would falsify an athletic endorsement,” Quinlan said.“To be clear, there has been no accusation or suggestion that any member of the undergraduate admissions staff participated in any unethical behavior or had any knowledge of this or any similar scheme. I can state unequivocally that any such behavior would not be tolerated or condoned. We highly value the integrity of our admissions process, just as we value integrity in our applicants.” 

Yale College admitted 5.91 percent of its applicants to the class of 2023.

Julia Bialek | julia.bialek@yale.edu