We knew Felicity Huffman from Desperate Housewives, but we didn’t know how desperate a mother she was until now. Huffman and Lori Loughlin of Full House are the two celebrities caught in the Operation Varsity Blues dragnet, along with 31 other individuals who paid as much as $500,000 per dimwit child to one William ‘Rick’ Singer, all so their pampered, ignorant, SAT-flunking little darlings could get into ‘good’ schools where they could snort Xanax, butt-chug ketamine, and slob around in sweatpants and flip-flops like inmates in a mental hospital — just like their more intelligent peers, apart from the Asians, who actually study and are America’s last chance.
Let us count the ways in which college admissions are corrupt. They are corrupted by the reserving of spots for ‘legacy’ applicants. To qualify for one of these highly selective non-competitive places, you need to be born with forebears who attended your choice of college, and to be able to sit straight without drooling out of either corner of your mouth.
Legacy places are essentially affirmative action for the wealthier sort of white people. They should not be confused with a more recent form of corruption, affirmative action for the wealthier sort of non-white people. Reserving a certain number of spots on the basis of race was originally intended to assist the upward mobility of black people, many of whose ancestors having been owned by the ancestors of the people who still monopolize legacy admissions. But these days, affirmative action effectively preserves the class advantages of any non-white applicant with good-enough SAT scores, and at the expense of a poorer non-white applicant.
The exceptions to this rule are American applicants of East Asian and Indian background. These hard-working children of hard-working immigrants are penalized for their hard work and family values, and have to get higher SAT scores than other racial groups, especially African Americans. It is an inarguable fact that if America’s top colleges admitted students solely by academic merit and potential, their entire intake would be of Chinese and Indian extraction, with a sprinkling of Jews to make the jokes. All colleges rig the racial profile of their intake by explicitly racist measures. The Ivy League adds an extra layer of racial screening by insisting on ‘character’, which means impersonating the manners of white people. This is an elaborately cruel form of corruption which has grown out of the corruption of affirmative action, itself a corrective to the earlier corruption of college admissions by race and class.
As William ‘Rick’ Singer is alleged to know, college admissions are openly corrupted by sporting ability. I’ve taught in what are laughably sold as top liberal arts colleges. Almost all the students on sports scholarships are semi-literate. They sleep through their lectures, which is understandable, given their rigorous training schedules. They pay their less athletic fellow students to write their papers for them, which is also understandable, given their selfless donation of their sporting talent to the community. They just sit there like sleepy bears, giving off a faint whiff of locker rooms and vanilla protein shake as they twiddle with their cellphones.
College admissions are also corrupted by admitting foreign students who can’t speak or write English, but whose parents are willing to pay top dollar. It’s an open secret that many mainland Chinese and South Korean applicants to ‘top liberal arts colleges’ don’t write their application essays; either that, or their English goes into reverse after sending off the essays. But, just as you can’t fire an athlete, you can’t send the foreign students home.
Finally, colleges are begging to be corrupted by donations. The more colleges replace merit with profiling on the basis of racial background, family connections, economic origin, or sporting ability, the greater the squeeze on the remaining places. This creates an incentive for bribery by ‘donation’. When colleges claim that they’re not swayed by donations, they’re lying. If they were serious about reducing the scope for bribery, they’d refuse to accept donations from families with applications active or imminent.
William Deresiewicz, one of the few people to have taught at an American university and spoken honestly about the hollowing of the system, wrote a book in 2014 called Excellent Sheep. Deresiewicz believes that the risk-averse selection strategies of elite colleges have created a narrow and risk-averse elite. It now turns out that elite colleges do admit a wide and risk-embracing pool of applicants with low SAT scores — providing their parents pay a bit extra, or a lot.
Everything is for sale in the American university except a decent liberal education. Money talks, and merit comes last. Huffman, Loughlin and the other parents are in court not just because they seem to have been blessed with children of inordinate stupidity, but because they grasped the rules of college corruption perfectly, and played the game the wrong way, and perhaps too well.
William ‘Rick’ Singer knew the system so well that he created a simulacrum of the admissions process. He invented a fake charity, which is what most private colleges are. He paid competent students to sit entry exams, which happens all the time. He cut deals with sports coaches, rather than the coaches and the scouts cutting deals with the family. He obtained sports scholarships for students who didn’t lift a finger or a bat once they were in. And, like the elite schools, he extracted a fortune from suckers. When he gets out of prison, a brilliant career awaits, possibly as dean of a liberal arts college in Vermont.
Dominic Green is Life & Arts Editor of Spectator USA.