By COLIN SUSZYNSKI
On March 12, my father sent me an email with a link to a Bloomberg article about celebrities and millionaire parents who bought their children’s way into elite schools. When I read the title, I assumed it would be about large donations encouraging schools to admit children of the donors — the type of massive, building-name purchasing donations that have existed since the beginning of American college education. However, it turned out the bribery scandal was different. Rich families literally paid coaches to admit their children as athletes, even if they didn’t participate in any sports, and paid SAT proctors to correct their tests, among other things.
Reading this, I didn’t really feel surprised. I initially thought that this was nothing new, because it felt the same as donating entire buildings to get your kid into school. Rich families have always had “back-doors” through which they can get their kids into school, and this was another one. Obviously, it was wrong, and the families that participated ought to be held accountable. But what about those who had used the donation “back-door”? Shouldn’t they be held accountable, and shouldn’t the school be held accountable for allowing it?
The answer, though morally dubious, is “no.” Publicly donating copious amounts of money to schools, either through various foundations or organizations, or by donating buildings, is generally beneficial to the student body. The university is able to obtain new resources for their students without paying for them, and as a result, can put that money elsewhere, including toward building their endowment or toward developing new and existing projects. Because of this, future students will have access to better opportunities, and the school may be able to accept more students in need of financial aid. Furthermore, the transparency of this process makes it much more prone to scrutiny, which is important in case the school misuses or abuses the funds it received.
The primary difference between the college bribery scandal and the donations is that only a small group of people benefit from the bribery, while a large portion of the student body can benefit from donations. Those people who received the bribes did not put it back into improving the school — it went straight into their pockets.
However, I say that the more public back-door is “morally dubious” because there are still grounds to feel disappointed by it. It is unfair for people with blatant privileges to receive blatant advantages. It enforces inequality. However, the advantages it affords for underprivileged students offset the advantages it offers to privileged ones.
Fortunately, the college bribery scandal — nicknamed Operation Varsity Blues by the Feds — was followed quickly by another public embarrassment that drives this point home. On Saturday, March 23, Andre Young (also known as Dr. Dre) made an Instagram post congratulating his daughter for getting into the University of Southern California “without jail time.” The post was a sly joke directed toward the parents who cheated and bribed their children’s way into USC and other schools. However, people quickly began to criticize this post because Young donated $70 million dollars to USC to create the Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy for Arts, Technology, and the Business of Innovation. Clearly this donation had encouraged USC to admit his daughter, so it isn’t true to say she got into USC all on her own. People quickly began drawing comparisons between what he did and what the parents in the college bribery scandal did.
But 114 undergraduate students, and 159 graduate students, currently benefit from the Iovine and Young Academy. This donation, which was likely motivated by Young’s desire to get his daughter into USC, is actively providing an education for 273 students just this year, while the college bribery scandal provided an education only for sons and daughters of rich families paying bribes.