Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of clay Magazine or TPS.
As of Monday, October 15, the college admissions bribery scandal that was largely forgotten since the school year started has gained public attention again. This is primarily due to Felicity Huffman reporting to the Federal Correctional Institute Dublin for her 14-day prison sentence on October 15th, which will kickstart the culmination of the biggest college admissions scandal that the U.S. Department of Justice has ever investigated.
This college admissions scandal, officially known as Operation Varsity Blues, was investigated by the FBI from 2011-2019 before U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling announced charges (mail fraud, honest services fraud, and money laundering) against 33 parents on March 12, 2019. Among these parents, familiar names such as Lori Loughlin, Felicity Huffman, and Mossimo Giannulli were listed. All of the accused had allegedly paid money to have standardized college entrance exams corrected, bribed college coaches or admissions officers, or done a combination of both.
But what the U.S. Department of Justice found out was not much of a surprise to many average Americans. Extremely well-off people using unsavory means to get their children into prestigious schools has been suspected for decades. What was surprising is the minor punishments that these wealthy people have been undergoing. Felicity Huffman, who paid $15,000 to have the answers corrected on her daughter’s SAT, only received 14 days in prison, a $30,000 fine, and 250 hours of community service. On Huffman’s sentence, U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling said, “I think it sent a clear message to the other parents involved that there really is a good chance if you’re convicted of the offense, you’re going to go to prison for some period of time.” However, one can’t help but feel that there is more to this story than simple fraud.
As college admissions become increasingly competitive, success has become frequently equated with getting into a good school. But to get into a “good” school, a student needs a high ACT or SAT score, stellar grades, and outstanding extracurriculars. For many of these well-off people, they can afford the best prep schools, pay for their child’s travel sports team, and dish out thousands of dollars for tutoring. But, all of these things can be for naught if their child, like many others, becomes a victim of the progressively cutthroat culture in university admissions.
For the average family, the possibility of their child getting rejected from a prestigious school is simply a fact of life. Often, there is nothing that can be done about that fact other than working hard in school.
But for some wealthy people, there is something that can be taken advantage of: the power of money. “Donating a building” or simply giving money to a school in the years leading up to a teenager’s senior year can be the difference between a rejection and an acceptance. Like businesses, universities need money to maintain their campus, award scholarships, and pay their faculty. An average student who comes from a wealthy family being admitted over someone who is underprivileged but intelligent is often suspected, but because donating a building or giving money to a university is not illegal, nothing can be done about the broken system.
However, those indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice committed real crimes that have severe repercussions – not just for the defendants, but for working families and high school seniors across America. The wealthy who paid thousands upon thousands of dollars to bribe and cheat took away spots from high-achieving, deserving students, and student-athletes. But the infuriating part is that every one of the people on the indictment list had time to think about what their actions, and yet, they still decided to do it.
And despite the fact that they were caught, the wealthy defendants are receiving a mere slap on the wrist. To an average person, a $30,000 fine is financially devastating, but for the top 1% of income earners, it is nearly nothing. Community service hours can be performed over time. A 14-day prison sentence can be lived through. While this investigation and sentencing proceedings are historical and confirm what many have suspected, the U.S. Department of Justice has failed to truly show Americans that no one is above the law.
<https://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2019/09/13/felicity-huffman-college-admissions-scandal-sentencing-vpx.cnn> – Cover image
<https://www.axios.com/operation-varsity-blues-c68819de-1112-4d5d-84f4-6c91dacf75e4.html> – Source/2nd image
<https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/12/us/felicity-huffman-lori-loughlin-massimo-giannulli.html?module=inline> – People charged
<https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/18/us/felicity-huffman-prison-dublin/index.html> – Huffman prison
<http://yvr1.com/a-home-of-prestigious-universities/> – 3rd image