In March, the Federal Bureau of Investigations exposed over a dozen celebrities who bought their children’s acceptance into the country’s most prestigious colleges. With the help of college counseling coach William “Rick” Singer, actresses and business leaders paid a well-connected group of people to manipulate their kids’ standardized testing processes or fake their athletic recruitments.
When the news broke, The Beacon’s spring semester editorial board denounced wealthy parents’ actions. Like the millions of college students in America, we were angry at these families for weaseling their kids’ way into elite institutions, especially at the expense of other hard-working students.
There are legal albeit unethical ways of using money to get an acceptance letter, like making hefty donations to the college with the expectation of a student’s admission in return. But there is something even more immoral about sneaking into a university without the blessing of university administrations the way these families did.
Without the watchful eye of journalists and the public, money holds enormous power to make a lot of problems like this “disappear.” After all, the reason we ended up here is because parents not only purchased their kids’ admission to schools, but paid to ensure their wrongdoing would be covered up. So it’s essential, now more than ever, that we keep a close eye on this story and continue to hold people accountable.
This fall marks the first time high school seniors around the world will apply to American colleges like Emerson after the scandal. As photographs of these celebrities continue to circulate the internet, eager students will hand over their resumes, transcripts, and college essays to universities. But the admissions process will be plagued by stigma.
Only this Tuesday, the Attorney of Massachusetts released additional charges against some of the involved parents. The new charges alleged that 11 of the 15 parents conspired to commit federal program bribery by bribing university employees. And media outlets have been following Golden Globe–winning actress Felicity Huffman after she reported to a California federal prison to serve her 14-day-long sentence last week.
When the scandal was fresh, students and parents outwardly voiced their anger, and the celebrities charged received a barrage of coverage. Colleges like the University of Southern California and Yale University issued apologetic statements, punished offending faculty, and distanced their admission processes from the accused.
Today, months later, it’s easy to get sucked into commenting on Huffman’s prison outfit and then moving on. That’s the sort of funny news that appeals to people. But we cannot forget the gravity of this nationwide scandal—and that includes keeping our own administration accountable.
Here at Emerson, we live in a haven of higher education. None of the 35 Boston-area colleges were explicitly involved in the spring scandal. Regardless, unfair admissions processes are a recurring point of controversy across the country, especially at elite schools.
Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—two of the most highly regarded universities in the world—are mere miles away. Only last October, Asian-American students at Harvard sued the university by claiming they favored black and Hispanic applicants at the expense of other minority groups. Though the judge rejected the students’ claims, the case still drew attention to flawed admission processes nationwide.
It falls to students to keep the system in check and to keep administrations in check. We urge Emerson to recognize the importance of a fair and equitable admissions process. College is the foundational building block of students’ career trajectories and, oftentimes, their futures. So the process to be admitted here should be based solely on merit.
There is no evidence that our admission system is unfair. We are simply encouraging our administration to remain vigilant of their own admittance practices in the wake of this national scandal. In a time of admissions uncertainty, our admissions office should serve as a role model—a beacon of progress—when other universities are falling short of their promises.
When looking over students’ applications, review students’ work—their writing, their reels, and their auditions. Pore over their carefully crafted resumes. Read and reread the essays where they detail their biggest hardships and most ambitious goals. But do not undermine their efforts for a payout.
We owe students who were cheated by unfair admission processes our continued concern. A countless number of applicants were denied the education and experience they deserved because of this nationwide scandal and others like it that received less coverage. There is a justice system in place to force the wealthy to serve their sentences and pay for their illegal uses of privilege. But the justice system is reactive. We, as students, professors, administrators, and advocates of higher education, have to be proactive about the issue this application season and in all the seasons to come.