The Rules Are For Others

By

Leonard Zwelling

This is already in the running for my favorite story of the year and it’s only March.

Apparently a series of CEOs, big-wigs, privileged wealthy, and Hollywood stars paid a guy in Los Angeles to falsify college applications that turned their non-athlete kids into scholarship bait or had others take or coach their kids through standardize testing to enhance their chances of being admitted to choice universities. In addition, various college coaches were bribed to accept these kids as athletes in need of tuition money and admission preference when the students would qualify for neither.

I’m shocked. The rich and famous think the rules don’t apply to them. What a surprise! The less well connected are thus victimized by having their slots stolen from them by those with wealth and power.

The only surprising thing is that anyone is surprised. In the corporate world or the world of Hollywood, money talks and this is just the latest example of this, but it is not an isolated incident. After all hasn’t the President of the United States thrown his money around to buy off a porn star and a Playboy model with whom he had sexual relations? Of course, he has. He got Jared and Ivanka security clearance they didn’t earn and that was ill-advised. He’s attracting people to his hotel up the street from the White House to curry favor with him and he’s increased the entry dues at Mar A Lago.

The federal official that announced the results of the sting operation said at least 50 people were caught in the net and there may be more to come. But he said something more important. He said that there cannot be one system of college admissions for the wealthy and one for the rest of America. He also said that there will not be a separate system of justice for the wealthy suggesting that the government is going to throw the book at these people and that stars previously nominated for Academy Awards may now be doing hard time. I would wager that the feds aren’t through tonight, March 12.

This is racketeering plain and simple. There was money laundering involved and tax evasion too as the payoffs went to a “charitable foundation” so they could be deducted on income tax. Many people may go to jail and/or pay fines and some kids may find themselves out of school as well. It’s OK. That’s what should happen. Let’s see if it really does. After Paul Manafort’s “otherwise blameless life” got him only 47 months in jail, who knows what can happen?

And what about in academia?

Conflict of interest policies are waived for those with sufficient clout to demand their removal and then, once that guy is lifted from the president’s office at MD Anderson he persuades the Regents into giving him a severance package to stay. Why? What did UT or MD Anderson get for that bit of nonsense? Doesn’t anyone pay the price for bad behavior any more?

One of the great traumas befalling the American middle class is the sense that the deck is stacked against them. Previous blogs have demonstrated that the bottom 90% of America is not keeping pace with the economic growth enjoyed by the wealthy and that growth is only about 3% annually anyway unless you are in the top 0.1%.

It is likely that the 2020 presidential campaign will be fought over this issue as much as over any other. When is America going to get back to fairness, if it was ever there? As this new story shows, we are about as far from that as possible if you can buy your way into an elite college with no talent and no ability—just money and connected parents. At least in the past the money used to go to bricks and mortar on campus. Now it goes to paying off the tennis coach.

Everyone in this debacle needs to take a deep breath and do some soul searching. Fortunately for the rest of us, many may well have time to do so behind bars.

But there are many additional questions?

How is this method of gaining admission different from having parents endow a scholarship to get their kids accepted into prestigious schools? Bribery is bribery whether it’s in the development office or the tennis locker room.

How much did these kids really not know about what was going on? If they had proctor taking a standardized test for them in a foreign city, they knew.

Finally, how could all this go on under the noses of the deans and administrators at these universities? No one ever checked the credentials of the freshmen members of the crew team?

I think this story is still cooking and a lot more fish are going to be caught.

Leonard Zwelling