Admissions Scam: Affirmative Action for the rich?

Ysabela Golden

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Apparently having your parents fund a new campus library isn’t enough to get you admitted to the top schools in the country anymore, as has already swept social media. Eight universities, including Stanford and Yale, have been definitively implicated in an admissions bribery scandal. 50 people have been charged and 30 arrested for involvement in what the U.S. Department of Justice is calling a nationwide conspiracy between rich parents, athletic coaches, a university athletics director and SAT and ACT exam administrators. William Singer, owner of the college counseling business “Edge College & Career Network LLC” and the non-profit “Key Worldwide Foundation,” conspired with the parents of applying students to a) cheat on their college entrance exams, b) create falsified honors profiles or athletic records to pad applications down to falsified photos and c) get the bribe payments deducted off of their taxes by disguising them as charitable contributions to the Key Worldwide Foundation.

There’s outrage over this scheme from non-cheaters all over the country and especially from the guilty schools themselves. Two Stanford students, suddenly very annoyed about their $80 application fee, started the movement to sue all eight guilty schools in a class action lawsuit that would return the fees charged to thousands of students on the grounds that those applying hadn’t gotten what they paid for — a fair application process. Though cynics may say that anyone who actually thought they were getting an honest application process didn’t have the smarts to be accepted anyway, there’s something amusing about the admittance of old money applicants due to family legacy going continuously without comment while the scheming of new money applicants to replicate the same treatment is a national outrage. 

There’s a lot of obvious jokes stemming from this story, like “what a great day to have a rejection letter from Yale” or “how dumb are your kids that you didn’t just spend all this money on a tutor,” but the most ironic is that these scammers, once accepted, probably got less suspicion from their peers as “not deserving of their spots” than those accepted thanks to affirmative action. 

Whether or not affirmative action should exist is a topic argued everywhere from congress to Grand Valley State University’s entry level philosophy courses, and this scandal has not done anything to douse the debate. Both sides have used the fiasco to support their view of the college entrance system as “rigged,” though neither suspect that our conservative-leaning Supreme Court would factor the arrests as evidence in the seemingly inevitable case that the debate makes it back to them. Considering the “colorblind” stance of their new majority and the still-escalating case against Harvard’s affirmative action policies, it seems very likely that we could soon be living in a country without any such policies at all. 

Unless we’re really supposed to believe that by arresting 30 people the Department of Justice have fixed education inequality in this country, this seems like the worst possible time to stop assisting groups with pasts of racialized poverty and discrimination. Because if this scandal has proven anything, it’s that the rich white students at the top of the pile are not always there because they have such fantastic academic and athletic abilities. We need programs that bring attention to talented students who were maybe too busy working after-school jobs to clock 44 hours a week at the school rowing club

And yes, I’m sure we all have stories of affirmative action going wrong. The lawsuit against Harvard’s policies argues that they favor Hispanic and African American students over Asian American students. I lived across the street from the son of a successful dentist who bragged that he got a scholarship to an ivy league because his great-grandmother was half Chippewa. I get the concerns. But affirmative action isn’t flawed because its existence prevents schools from getting the cream of the crop; it’s flawed because its a band-aid on a system that’s been broken past ensuring fair treatment on its own.