BY DAVE PRICE
Daily Post Editor
I think many of us had the same reactions to the news that the FBI had arrested 50 parents, coaches and others in a scheme to get wealthy children into elite universities like Stanford, Yale, USC, UCLA and others.
First reaction: Isn’t this terrible? The elites are buying their way into college.
Second reaction: This has been happening for years, but before nobody was arrested for it.
Third reaction: Only 50 arrests? Didn’t the admitted mastermind, Rick Singer, brag about getting 250,000 kids into college?
Fourth reaction: Did the kids know their their parents were doing this?
The reactions continued all week. It seemed to be the topic of every casual conversation, especially in Palo Alto, which is so closely associated with Stanford.
I’ve heard humorous reactions, too. Like one guy who told me this was an affirmative action program for the rich and famous. They have kids who couldn’t get in based on merit, so these bribes level the playing field.
Doors to an admission
I think most people realize there are several doors that lead to an admission to an elite university.
There’s the front door, through which a highly qualified student with excellent grades and test scores, along with a resume of extracurricular activities, earns his or her way onto campus.
Then there are the other doors people talk less about. An athletic scholarship to a kid who doesn’t meet ordinary academic standards. Or daddy buys the school a building and the kid gets in. One of the parents attended the school, so the child is admitted as a “legacy.” Or cheating on SAT and ACT tests and bribing coaches.
The reaction of top universities has been revealing. USC immediately portrayed itself as a “victim” of the scandal. I would think that the kids who were denied spots even though they had worked hard and played by the rules were the victims here.
But a day later, it and UCLA said they would consider kicking out any students admitted as a result of fraud.
Stanford on Tuesday (March 12) issued a namby-pamby statement from President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell saying they were appalled at the accusations and would “undertake an internal process” to investigate the issue. Notice they didn’t use the word “investigation.” Perhaps too strong of a word for whatever they’re going to do.
The third student
The indictment handed down on Tuesday (March 12) said that Stanford sailing coach John Vandemoer accepted $770,000 for two students, neither of whom ended up enrolling in Stanford. And the indictment said Vandemoer didn’t pocket the money but put it into the sailing program’s account to buy things like boats and supplies.
That appeared to be Stanford’s only connection to the scheme — two students who didn’t enroll and a coach who pleaded guilty to racketeering.
Then, Stanford put out a statement on Thursday (March 14) saying, “… we are not aware of anyone who was actually admitted to Stanford with an improper recommendation from the sailing program.”
But that wasn’t the whole story. A transcript of Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric S. Rosen’s comments to a judge on Tuesday (March 12) show there was a third student connected to Stanford.
Rosen said there was a young woman whose parents gave $500,000 to Stanford’s sailing program and she was in fact admitted.
Vandemoer didn’t put the young woman on the team, but she was accepted through Stanford’s normal admissions process and that her fake sailing credentials had been fabricated by Singer, Rosen said.
No charges were filed in connection with this third student against Vandemoer, Singer or anybody else.
What’s going on in the highly secretive upper echelon at Stanford? Three choices.
1. The president, provost and board of trustees were entirely in the dark about the scandal, and didn’t know what their people were doing.
2. They knew but looked the other way.
3. They were totally involved, seeing it as a way to raise money, perhaps a new “business model” — and now they’re hoping Vandemoer doesn’t squeal on them.
I don’t want to believe choices 2 or 3. That would be terrible. It could mean the end of Stanford.
So let’s assume No. 1 is the right answer, that they were in the dark.
What should Stanford’s leaders do? Wake Forest, one of the schools implicated in this scandal, hired an outside law firm to conduct an independent investigation. That’s the typical reaction of publicly held companies to a scandal of this magnitude, because they have shareholders who will demand answers or they’ll sell their stock.
I suggest Stanford hire a law firm with no connections to the university to rigorously investigate the whole admissions process, from top to bottom. Look at every admission for the past couple of years to see if there was anything suspicious. Interview everyone involved in admissions. Look at every major donation to see if there is a link to a student who had been admitted. Produce a list of those who got accepted based on merit and who came in through the other doors.
And then, since Stanford’s credibility is at stake, they should release the whole report to the public, so nobody thinks there’s a coverup.
Accountability leads to credibility.
Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.