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Invoking the privilege to cheat

| Friday, March 22, 2019

It is not surprising — and should have been expected given the fierce competition high school students encounter to gain entrance to prestigious universities — that dozens have been ensnarled in the recent collegiate admittance scheme. Federal indictments were issued against the alleged opportunist scam artist William “Rick” Singer, along with parents and collaborating college officials. As time passes, more assertions come to light of bribery and rigging of student admittance. On Wednesday, prosecutors claimed the Bruce Isackson family transferred Facebook stock to bribe their daughter’s way as a “no show” onto the UCLA women’s soccer team that finished as the runners-up for the 2017 national championship.
For his part, Singer perfected his operation and sales pitch as early as 2010. Singer submitted a reality show audition tape describing the collegiate admissions process as a competitive contest. He pitched himself as a “life-coach” for families desperate to assure that their children will be admitted into the likes of Stanford, Yale and USC. “Just realize that this is a game,” he says on the recording.
In 2014 Singer expanded his marketing brand by publishing the college guides, “Getting In” and “Getting In: Personal Brands.” To complement his publications, he offered services through an online business. Claiming to assist wealthy students score higher on their ACTs or SATs, Singer and his company, The Key, (according to the indictment) allegedly enabled clients to cheat on the exams. Prosecutors also accused Singer of bribing college coaches and athletic officials to vouch for prospective students by claiming that a student was a varsity recruit for a collegiate sports team. However, as in the UCLA Isackson case, Singer, as well as the coaches, knew the student profile was fabricated and that the student was not a competitive player.
At the heart of this matter lies parents who flaunted their wealth to game a system for their children rather than accept an outcome and answer according to their child’s merits. Not every family of comfortable means resorts to such unscrupulous behavior. However, a myriad of reasons accounts for our societal imperfections, which are topped by greed, selfishness, power and vanity. Sprinkle in a touch of immorality, a lack of virtue and an absence of fair-play values. People with those characteristics are the ideal clients for Singer.
In many ways we are the “Two Americas” that candidate John Edwards espoused in his 2008 presidential bid. We are divided into an affluent cultural societal class and the poverty or peasant class. I imagine Singer appeals to people who believe that without designer clothes, another’s linage is merely from a Bubba clan, not a proud prominent family. The thinking is that anyone who doesn’t climb to the country club social status is just considered unsophisticated. They probably believe that the elusive ethos called culture is exclusively an inheritable legacy only for the few, within which they and their personal pedigree are included.
This should not be an indictment on the majority of wealthy or generations-long families. It could be. However, the character within each of us shines in our generosity and competition within the rules set for all. Some suggest that legacy admittance at higher educational institutions like Notre Dame similarly rigs the system. This writer does not subscribe to that thought so long as both legacy and public applicants are free to pursue an alternative means of admittance like a year away proving oneself before transferring during sophomore year. Cut the admittance pie and rank each piece from top to bottom while acceptance is based according to a given and equal formula. That is a fair and reasonable process.
A Wall Street Journal exposé in 2014 outlined how, for years, Notre Dame football fans could easily blame the team’s mediocrity on “notoriously stingy admissions standards, a picky admissions director and onerous academic demands … [known to have] … kept out the best players.” Yet others could suggest that any university’s character and brand are more influential for recruitment. Penn State or Stanford, with their vastly differing institutional attributes, consistently keep pace with Notre Dame in competitive prowess on the field and successful graduation rates. Ironically, as a result of such branding, the Singers of the world can prey on those willing to bribe and cheat to gain such admittance.
In Singer’s case, collegiate admittance was the target. But any prominent school with any noted sports tradition can be scammed in many ways. Perhaps someday investigators might delve into who rides the plane with a team to away events. Perhaps somewhere in some athletic department a staff member whose spouse or friend offers travel consulting services overcharges boosters to stay in the same hotels as those traveling teams. Yet while the varieties of illicit opportunities could abound throughout collegiate athletics, none can be successful without those willing to buy their ways into favor, notoriety or acceptance.
Collegiate admittance, like life itself, is a game, but not the one Singer played. Nobody is entitled to cheat or scam or rig the process. Place your fortunes around the board in anticipation of an equal opportunity between you and those around the table. Then in the end, when we accept the outcome, all of us maintain our dignity while practicing fellowship. To do less cheats everyone.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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