EDITORIAL: Admissions scandal shows broken system
Scandal reveals separate, unequal systems rigged for ultra-wealthy
Earlier this month, the U.S. Justice Department began the prosecutorial process of the largest college cheating scheme in department history. Fifty people were charged nationwide with cheating on college admissions exams and securing admission to elite colleges through bribery and conspiracy. This is by no means simply a case of a few bad apples, but rather it is a glimpse into the veiled rotting of a broken ecosystem of inequality, bribery and disillusion.
As approximately two million high school graduates apply to colleges each year, a select group of institutions become the gatekeepers for the supposed meritocratic elite of academic excellence. “Elite colleges have become a status symbol with the legitimacy of meritocracy attached to them, because getting in sanctifies you as meritorious,” said Jerome Karabel, a sociologist at the University of California, Berkeley and a historian of college admissions. But this system is hollowed by both the overt tilting of scales that advantage the most well-off and the now-disclosed direct, illegal purchase of entry.
At the center of the scandal is William Singer, a college admissions adviser who has claimed to have altered the test scores of potentially hundreds of students per year and negotiated bribes on behalf of wealthy parents looking for a separate and paid-for admissions process for their children. But when this scandal broke, it truly only provided a peak into the plutocratic rigging of America.
“The college bribery scam is not a college bribery scam. It is a master class in how America — governed by a cheater, ruled by rule breakers, managed by a class that confuses its privilege for merit — functions,” said Anand Giridharadas, author of “Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World."
The legal and institutionalized favoring of the plutocratic elites and wealthy in America begins from the first day in the education system and continues through college application season. Because the majority of public-school systems are funded through property taxes, the quality of education is already propped up on a foundation determined by the wealth of the surrounding area. Then, the college application season eventually rolls around and the wealthy can continue their legal purchasing of advantage.
The moral rot in our faux meritocracy surfaces in the “standardized test prep industry, worth around $840 million, which involves parents forking over up to $200 an hour for Ivy League tutors tasked with increasing their children’s scores … application essay writers, who coach students on what to write about, edit their writing and, in some cases, write for them … college coaching firms, which charge up to $40,000 to strategize an applicant’s entire process … and donations made to schools by the parents of legacy students (that) can essentially buy acceptance letters.”
While much media attention has been placed on the wealthy Hollywood stars being prosecuted, Bill McGlashan must not be overlooked as a perpetrator of this plutocratic fraudulence. Once described by The New York Times as resembling "a Buddhist monk," leading a multibillion-dollar investing vehicle partially designed to "expand access to educational attainment" to the least well-off and the disadvantaged, McGhlashan hypocritically stole an admissions spot from those he claimed to be helping.
The man that embodied the concocted narrative that private-equity executives and the ultra-wealthy have a justified existence in an elite class because they follow selfless values and solely philanthropic motives is the same man indicted for bribery and corrupting our system of opportunity and social mobility.
Jane Meyer chronicled the hostile takeover of public life through philanthropic and nonprofit institutions in her book “Dark Money.” In claiming ownership of the idea of saving the world, giving back and empowering others, the plutocratic elite have been able to mask their consolidation of wealth and power through our societal institutions. Not all philanthropic elites self-interestedly benefit from and promote our rigged system, but the burden of proof is on the rich and powerful to show that their actions are truly for the public good.
Through the guise of nonprofit philanthropy, these wealthy parents were provided an alternative admissions process from that which the children of the rest of the nation must traverse. The same people who swim in immense advantages and peddle faith in merit and free markets betrayed the American Dream’s tenet of education as a means to escape class stagnation and allowed us a short peek behind the curtain to see the farce of our American meritocracy and the rigging of our societal systems.
The scandal must not be left as a surface-level event of fraudulence by a few parents stealing admissions spots behind the gates of elite educational institutions. Donations will not solve the institutional and systematic problems of this nation. There are separate and unequal systems for the rich and for the poor and the institutions rigged for plutocratic America must be dismantled.
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