EDITORIAL: Felicity Huffman, William H. Macy and a shameless college admissions scam
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Rich people were pulling strings to get their kids into elite colleges. What a shocker.
In this latest episode of how people with wealth and connections buy the future for their children, the string-pulling appears to have been blatantly illegal.
Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, along with dozens of other wealthy moms and dads, were charged Tuesday with engaging in various illegal schemes — including bribing coaches and insiders at testing centers — to get their kids into top universities such as Stanford, Georgetown and Wake Forest.
That’s definitely not good. All across America right now, millions of parents of modest means and zero connections are feeling no sympathy for the stars of “Desperate Housewives” and “Full House.”
This looks like quite a bust by the FBI. Good on them.
But to keep things in perspective, let’s remember that the playing field is never level when it comes to getting into our nation’s most exclusive colleges, even when no laws are broken. Wealthy kids are admitted the most, by far, thanks to having enjoyed every advantage along the road — the best preschools, elementary schools, prep schools, tutors and parental Rolodexes.
As the New York Times reported two years ago, at 38 of the top colleges in the United States, including five in the Ivy League — Dartmouth, Princeton, Yale, Penn and Brown — more students come from the top one percent of the income scale than from the entire bottom 60 percent.
Political conservatives lament that affirmative action for minority groups skews the college admissions process, undermining true merit, but the much bigger distorting influences are money and social connections.
The children of alumni — “legacy” students — are favored. This is how former President George W. Bush, no great scholar, got into Yale, and how former Sen. Ted Kennedy, no scholar at all, got into Harvard.
And the children of the very wealthy are favored. This is how Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, got into Harvard.
As first reported by the journalist Daniel Golden in 2007, Kushner’s father pulled every string he could to get Jared — who did not have anything close to top grades or SAT scores — into Harvard. He called two senators to whom he had donated to have them call the school on his son’s behalf, and he directly pledged a gift of $2.5 million shortly before Jared was accepted.
All of this is part of what Richard Reeves, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, calls “the glass floor” that wealthy parents place under their children. The kids grow up in America’s most privileged communities and are handed the best social connections, giving them a leg up when it comes to jobs, internships, college admissions and financial backing in business.
It certainly explains Donald Trump.
Given the natural advantages that children of privilege already enjoy when it comes to getting into a top college, the scam revealed Tuesday by the Justice Department seems all the more obnoxious. The parents couldn’t just kick in the college door legally?
The parents charged were described by U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling as a “catalog of wealth and privilege.” They spent between $200,000 to $6.5 million to guarantee their children’s college admission.
Through an admissions consultant, the Edge College & Career Network, they allegedly bribed coaches to label their children as recruited athletes to give them an edge. Or they allegedly bribed entrance-exam administrators to allow a Florida test-taking expert to take the tests on behalf of their children. Or have the man replace the kids’ answers with his.
And, according to the Justice Department, they knew perfectly well what was up.
A cooperating witness, according to court documents, met with Huffman and her husband, the actor William H. Macy, who stars in the Showtime series “Shameless,” at their home in Los Angeles and explained how the admissions test scam would work. The cooperator later reported that they “agreed to the plan.”
The shame of it all, Lelling said Tuesday, is that the cheaters cut in line ahead of honest applicants. “For every student admitted through fraud,” he said, “an honest and genuinely talented student was rejected.”
This is true.
Because that’s another problem with affirmative action for the rich.
When somebody has to be bumped, odds are it won’t be a George W. Bush, Ted Kennedy or Jared Kushner.
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