Dishonorable and Sad

The recent scandal about college admissions was hardly the canary in the coal mine that we needed to warn us that the US is not a meritocracy. You’d have to be blinkered and blindfolded and white to believe that, but now it’s pretty obvious that the oligarchs are done pretending.

Felicity Huffman is a minor embarrassment to her class; but the justice system had to reach out, anyhow, to show how corrupt it is. [salon]

Actress Felicity Huffman was reportedly released from federal prison in Northern California on Friday after serving less than two weeks in what federal prosecutors called the “largest college admissions scam” ever uncovered by the Department of Justice.

Huffman began her sentence Oct. 15 at the Federal Correctional Institution, a low-security facility with roughly 1,200 women inmates located east of San Fransisco in Dublin, Calif.

Huffman was expected to complete her 14-day sentence on Sunday, Oct. 27, even though that would mark the 13th day of her sentence. However, she was released Friday. Prison officials confirmed to NBC News that the actress was released Friday under a policy which allows inmates to leave ahead of schedule if their release day is on a weekend or legal holiday.

It was a symbolic gesture to sentence her to 2 weeks in the first place, but they couldn’t even maintain that symbolic facade. Seriously, why didn’t the judge just give her a hug and a bible and tell her to go and don’t embarrass us any more.

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The real college admissions scandal is that a claimed 15%-20% of ivy league admissions are “legacy” admissions. My suspicion is that it’s a lot higher than that and the pure “legacy” admissions don’t include the “well, your dad bought us a new science building so we guess we’d better let you in” oligarchic solidarity admissions. Since I am part of the extended “Hopkins family” I remember when Bloomberg gave $1.5 billion to the university,[nyt] in order to create scholarships for underprivileged kids. I.e.: to offset the 20+% of privileged kids who are going to get in regardless of whether they are talentless slackers, because of who their parents are.

Here is a suggestion for the next Bloomberg who wants to donate a lot to a university: make it contingent on them ceasing the practice of legacy admissions. If Bloomberg really wanted to help underprivileged kids, he’s got to start by dynamiting the barnacles off the existing admissions process – otherwise he’s just perpetuating a scam.

I’d have grudgingly respected Huffman if she insisted that they keep her over the long weekend.

I was a legacy of sorts at Johns Hopkins. The chairman of the admissions committee had carried me around Paris and Spain on his shoulders many times, and I’m pretty sure that had something to do with my getting in, in spite of the fact that my SATs were excellent and I had pretty fair grades. It was clear to anyone (including me!) that I was not going to be an exemplary student – I was too interested in other stuff. Apparently the argument that clinched my admission was that I had gone way out of my way to find a kendo instructor (in 1980, that was a hard thing in Baltimore, MD) and that showed some kind of “stick to-it-iveness” or some such. Bah. But I’ll take it.


  1. says

    When I applied for a university, admissions were decided by a computer program, which took into account only the standardized exam scores. I filled my application digitally, there was no interview with anybody whatsoever.

    Of course, one can argue that rich kids can go to better schools and get private tutors, so it’s easier for them to get high exam scores. Still, I believe that taking into account exam scores only is better than the weird stuff that’s happening in American universities.

    By the way, personally I was from a family with below average income. My parents couldn’t have afforded any private tutors. Nonetheless, my exam scores were perfect. I just learned how to study from textbooks on my own. At my school I also got a bit of private one-on-one lessons with the regular teachers who worked there. I was participating in academic competitions in pretty much every subject, and most of the school teachers offered private lessons in the afternoons to kids who wanted to participate in state level academic competitions. In Latvia there exist various academic competitions for school kids, and schools get some prestige and various other benefits if their pupils win in those. Thus teachers are motivated to work with any kids who volunteer to stay for some extra learning after the regular lessons are over.

  2. jrkrideau says

    When I applied for a university, it was basically before computers but acceptance seemed to be on academic performance overall.

    I was in my 40’s before I had even heard about the US “legacy” programmes. I think it strikes Canadians as very strange.

  3. jrkrideau says

    I should mention that I was a good but, by no means outstanding student but got accepted at my first choice. Competition was less intense in those far-off days.

  4. says

    Yeah, I got into the University of Saskatchewan in 1985 because my high school grades were good enough to get into the Arts and Science program as a history major. No SAT tests, no essay, no list of extracurriculars to prove whatever is they’re supposed to prove.

  5. jrkrideau says

    @ 5 timgueguen
    my high school grades were good enough
    Still seems to work that way. A few years ago the men’s basketball team at the local university’s academic standard were too high for him to recruit a good squad.

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