The College Admissions Bribery Scandal and the Issue of Values


By now you have read about the college admissions bribery scandal: The story that begins with the corrupt college consultant, William Singer, who collected more than $25 million from hundreds of parents, hired people to take SAT and ACT tests for their children, and bribed college coaches to recruit these students on college teams using artificial athletic resumes.

Yes, it is shocking and disgusting to read about this, and the more I reflect on these incidents, the more upset I get. Let me break this into several parts:

  1. The ringleader of the scandal is clearly a person who lacks values and originated a fraudulent scheme. But that is just the beginning.
  2. Thirteen college coaches (yes, I said 13 college coaches!!!) from elite universities knowingly took bribes of as much as $400,000 to illegally admit unqualified students. It caused me to wonder: Did the ringleader only talk to 13 coaches who all agreed to take bribes? What about coaches who refused to take bribes? Why did no one report this consultant to authorities?
  3. Thirty-three parents were charged with organized conspiracy (and many others have not yet been charged). What example of values and integrity are they setting for their children? What were they thinking?
  4. Some commentators have stated that the students were not aware of their parents’ actions. Maybe. But it defies logic that someone could take the ACT and SAT tests for you or you could gain admission as a college athlete in a sport you didn’t play all without you knowing.
  5. Did anyone consider the impact of these actions on the students that were not admitted in order to admit these undeserving students?

Well, unfortunately, I am not done with my questions. Clearly the incidents described above are illegal. However, as my students know, I often discuss in my leadership class on “leading with values” the difference between making decisions based on “is it legal or is it illegal” versus “is it the RIGHT THING to do or is it the WRONG THING to do?”

The U.S. attorney in the case made an interesting comment: “We’re not talking about donating a building….we’re talking about fraud.” Hmmmm, that got me to thinking, “is it the RIGHT THING to do” to make large donations to a college with the intention of helping your children gain admittance to the college? What about the topic of “legacy students?” Yes, many of these colleges are private and can admit whomever they want legally, but is it the RIGHT THING to do?

Okay, this got me to reflect on one other component of the issue: My understanding is that the reason for the existence of SAT and ACT tests is to establish a “national standardized way” of comparing students regardless of the quality of their high schools. In other words, a 3.9 grade point average in one school could mean a very different level of performance vs. the same grade point average at another school. I understand the concept, but is it the RIGHT THING for some wealthy students to be able to hire coaches to help them prepare for the tests and take the tests multiple times if they want? Meanwhile, poor students can only afford to take the test once and certainly cannot afford testing coaches?

We should really ask ourselves: Are we truly testing for the aptitude of students? Or are we essentially only seeing who can master test-taking?

I don’t know the answer to these questions, but they are the type of questions worth some “self reflection” as we ponder issues of what is the RIGHT THING TO DO, fairness, and the increasing concern of inequality in our country.

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