If you want to see the sense of entitlement that rich people have, you could do no better than the affidavit submitted by an FBI agent in support of the indictment. The affidavit contains verbatim transcripts of wiretapped conversations that the parents had with those scheming to falsely create credentials for their children. The transcripts include conversations involving Gordon Caplan, who before the scandal broke, was co-chairman of a major international law firm, and who yesterday issued a statement saying he would plead guilty to fraud for faking his daughter’s disability in order to enable her to get special testing conditions under which she not only got extra time but also enabled the proctor to change her answers to give her a higher score.
Via Kevin Drum, I came across an article by Caitlin Flanagan who once worked at an elite prep school in Los Angeles and experienced first hand these people’s incredible sense of entitlement. In her account, she says that she first taught English for four years and it was the best job she had ever had but then accepted what she thought was a promotion to being a guidance counselor but that this job turned out to be the worst she has ever had. She clearly saw in the story of rich people getting caught bribing and cheating to get their children into the colleges of their choice many similarities to the parents that she had to deal with. It is amusingly written even though she clearly detested that period of her life.
I did not know—even after four years at the institution—that the school’s impressive matriculation list was not the simple by-product of excellent teaching, but was in fact the end result of parental campaigns undertaken with the same level of whimsy with which the Japanese Navy bombed Pearl Harbor.
Every parent assumed that whatever alchemy of good genes and good credit had gotten his child a spot at the prep school was the same one that would land him a spot at a hyper-selective college. It was true that a quarter of the class went to the Ivy League, and another quarter to places such as Stanford, MIT, and Amherst. But that still left half the class, and I was the one who had to tell their parents that they were going to have to be flexible. Before each meeting, I prepared a list of good colleges that the kid had a strong chance of getting into, but these parents didn’t want colleges their kids had a strong chance of getting into; they wanted colleges their kids didn’t have a chance in hell of getting into. A successful first meeting often consisted of walking them back from the crack pipe of Harvard to the Adderall crash of Middlebury and then scheduling a follow-up meeting to douse them with the bong water of Denison.
I just about got an ulcer sitting in that office listening to rich people complaining bitterly about an “unfair” or a “rigged” system. Sometimes they would say things so outlandish that I would just stare at them, trying to beam into their mind the question, Can you hear yourself? That so many of them were (literal) limousine liberals lent the meetings an element of radical chic. They were down for the revolution, but there was no way their kid was going to settle for Lehigh.
When a venture capitalist and his ageless wife storm into your boss’s office to get you fired because you failed to get their daughter (conscientious, but no atom splitter) into the prestigious school they wanted, you can really start to question whether it’s worth the 36K.
Flanagan says that the good news is that only 25% of the parents acted like this. Only? That seems like a lot to me.
She has gone through the supporting affidavit of the indictment and highlights the outrageous stories that were caught on the wiretaps. She also says that those who equate this scandal with legacy admissions are not quite right, because this one provides no auxiliary benefits at all.
Ever since the scandal became public, two opinions have been widely expressed. The first is that the schemes it revealed are not much different from the long-standing admissions preference for big donors, and the second is that these admissions gained on fraudulent grounds have harmed underprivileged students. These aren’t quite right. As off-putting as most of us find the role that big-ticket fundraising plays in elite-college admissions, those monies go toward programs and facilities that will benefit a wide number of students—new dormitories, new libraries, enriched financial-aid funds are often the result of rich parents being tapped for gifts at admissions time. But the Singer scheme benefits no one at all except the individual students, and the people their parents paid off.
The argument that the scheme hurt disadvantaged applicants—or even just non-rich applicants who needed financial aid to attend these stratospherically expensive colleges—isn’t right either. Elite colleges pay deep attention to the issue of enrollment management; the more elite the institution, the more likely it is to be racially and socioeconomically diverse. This is in part because attaining this kind of diversity has become a foundational goal of most admissions offices, and also because the elite colleges have the money to make it happen. In 2017, Harvard announced with great fanfare that it had enrolled its first class in which white students were in the minority.
The article is an interesting read. The main point to always bear in mind is that meritocracy is a sham and that matriculating and graduating from a highly selective educational institution is not a proxy for merit. The people who go to these elite colleges may or may not possess the qualities and abilities that lead to success in life but the very fact of having attended these schools is no guarantee of it.