Cheating

As I may have mentioned about 43,721 times, I am a Trustee of Marietta College, Marietta, Ohio 45750.

As such, I have read with particular interest, the growing scandal of parents buying their kids’ way into the parents’ college of choice.

Wealthy adults paid to have someone else take their kids’ SATs or ACTs; had others write their admission essays; and, at the top of the cheating pyramid, bribed coaches to pretend their kid was a competitive athlete – sailing, tennis, crew, whatever – and jump the admission line that way.

Georgetown University’s tennis coach, according to the charging document, was paid $2.7 million to help 12 high school students be admitted on the basis of their tennis skills. This number “included some who did not play competitive tennis” at all.

The university sent an all-campus letter explaining they had suspended the coach about a year ago when the administration got wind of something wrong and has since established an auditing committee to cross check students who were admitted on the basis of an athletic skill against the roster of the sport in which they are supposed to be participating.

The Galens did not do this when I was of college age. I have a brother who went to Cornell University and a sister who went to Columbia, so the Ivy League was not unknown in our family.

I was such a crappy student in high school that I was rejected by every college I applied to except for my “safe school,” Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky.

My mom (who knew me pretty well) said she was not spending four years of tuition and fees for the sole purpose of providing me with a lifelong punchline about where I went to school.

Mullpal Walter Shapiro wrote a wonderful essay some years ago about having been rejected by Ivy League and other elite Eastern schools, ending up at the University of Michigan. Journalists and writers are not tagged by where they went to school.

Walter is way smarter than I am.

He notes, in that piece, that Peggy Noonan is a graduate of Fairleigh Dickenson University in New Jersey.

Peggy is way smarter than everyone.

SIDEBAR
• I took two semesters of accounting in night school at Fairleigh Dickenson while I was on my two-year enforced academic sabbatical from Marietta.

• Peggy and I are both FDU Knights!

END SIDEBAR

In the end, I was admitted to Marietta after having cleared the waiting list. I flunked out after three semesters.

Small, liberal arts colleges like Marietta are always in a scramble to assemble a freshman class. In a meeting with the admission staff, shortly after my appointment to the board, I asked if students still flunked out.

I was told that it sometimes becomes a matter of ethics. If, even after attending sessions in the summer before the official opening of the school year to catch up, and not doing well in their freshman year, it becomes obvious a student will not be able to complete college-level work, they will be counseled to take a different direction.

“It would be unethical,” I was told, “to saddle that student with another semester and thousands of dollars in student loans, plus very often continue to put financial pressure on the family knowing that the student was not going to succeed.”

The question grew in my mind: What if someone came to me as a Trustee and offered to donate $2 million to the institution if their kid were admitted to Marietta.

Let’s assume he or she is a close call. I’m pretty sure that a student, recommended by a Trustee, would be given every opportunity to be admitted. I’m pretty sure that the $2 million would be used to improve the campus – intellectually or physically.

I’m also positive that the nature of the situation at almost every college and university would draw plenty of attention inside the Administration Building. I hope care would be taken that the decision to admit or reject the student would come down to this: “Absent the parents’ gift would we admit this kid?”

None of the colleges have been found (so far) to have been involved in the scandal. But, there is the issue about donating a building or a named-professorship to help ensure your child is given the best possible chance of being admitted to Yale or Georgetown or the University of Texas at Austin.

Parents have routinely held their five-year-old back a year – intellectual red-shirting – so they will be the oldest kid in their class and, thus, not just be better at kickball than the other third-graders, but also better at basketball than most of the other high school juniors.

There is no question that the parents and coaches who were arrested earlier this week are accused of a bright-line crime. There is no on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand about it.

But still, there is the question: when do good works slide over into wink-wink-nudge-nudge bribery?

On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: A summary of the Admissions Scandal from “Inside Higher Ed” magazine, a link to Transylvania University’s web page, and to Walter Shapiro’s Time Magazine essay.

Reprinted from Mullings

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