March 14, 2019

Admissions Scandal

Editor's note: We couldn’t be more proud of one of our teammates, Isaac Rose-Berman, who penned his first op-ed this week in USA Today: “How college students can bridge American divides: 'Study abroad' in Alabama or New York.” Please give it a read, and share far and wide!

“Fifty people, including Hollywood stars Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, were charged Tuesday in a scheme in which wealthy parents allegedly bribed college coaches and other insiders to get their children into some of the nation’s most elite schools.” AP News


Both sides argue that the current system of higher education is deeply flawed:

“All of those wealthy parents indicted yesterday stand accused of breaking the law. But they were also pretty obviously responding to incentives. If a society turns getting into one of the top 25 schools in the country into the Willie Wonka ticket, the Holy Grail, the alchemical formula — the one thing that parents believe will ensure their children will have a happy, financially comfortable, and successful life — then people will go to absurd and illegal lengths to get it.”
Jim Geraghty, National Review

“It’s not just that higher education is literally prohibitively expensive… It’s not just that admission to an élite college—more than the education a student receives there—provides the foundation of future wealth by creating or, more often, reinforcing social connections. It’s not just that every college in the country, including public schools, makes decisions about infrastructure, curriculum development, hiring, and its very existence on the basis of fund-raising and money-making logic. It’s not just that the process of getting into college grows more stressful—and, consequently, more expensive—with every passing year. It’s not just that the process itself is fundamentally rigged and everyone knows this. It’s all of it.”
Masha Gessen, The New Yorker

“Meritocracy is an illusion—long before an application shows up at a school, the system is legitimately stacked in favor of the wealthy. Kids who aren’t from privileged backgrounds are at a steep disadvantage… Now here, with the government’s case, comes a wave of high net worth parents who allegedly aren’t even making a pretense of their children earning admission—mom and dad are just going to pay, and they’ll pay this underbelly of surrogates allegedly willing to make it happen, because the surrogates want the money, and they know the system is rigged.”
Jason Gay, Wall Street Journal

“The behavior described in this alleged fraud should be punished. But on a broader and more basic level, the case also sheds light on deep inequities in our college admissions system. Because if someone can get their kid into Harvard by buying a building, let alone by committing any of the alleged acts emerging from this case, the scandal isn't just what's illegal, but what's legal as well… There is a separate system of justice for the wealthy. There's also a separate admission system for rich people that's quite legal. But maybe with this indictment, we'll get just a bit closer to changing that unfair status quo.”
David Perry, CNN


Many on both sides also agree that elite colleges are not all that they're cracked up to be:

“If universities were primarily interested in educating students, bribery wouldn't be a problem. Academically unqualified applicants would be filtered out of the system by their inability to keep up. The fact that a rich kid can fake his way into a top university and still graduate with a degree tells you all you need to know about the state of higher education.”
Matt Walsh, Daily Wire

“The parents paying millions to get their kids into elite schools weren’t worried that their kids would fail out despite being unqualified. In other words, college can be a lot harder to get into than it is to pass…  The most valuable thing kids learn in college is probably the ‘soft skills’ acquired by adult(ish) members of a tight-knit community in a common pursuit. Better than in high school, and with lower stakes than in the real world, college students can learn how to work out differences, question their own assumptions, take leadership roles, and simply be adult members of a civil society.”
Editorial Board, Washington Examiner

“There's very little evidence that the actual education you get at an elite university is better than the education you might get at a less-prestigious school. In fact, there are some persuasive arguments to the contrary. The real value of a Harvard degree arguably lies less in what happens in the classroom than in the elite connections you make outside of class. But these connections are already available to the children of the elite; they only make a substantial difference to those who come from more humble origins. Why spend vast amounts of money for access to something you already have?”
Noah Millman, The Week

The perception that only elite schools produce elite leaders needs to die… Of the CEOs of the top 20 companies in last year’s Fortune 500, exactly one — Amazon.com Inc.’s Jeff Bezos — went to an Ivy League school (Princeton)... Maybe a Harvard diploma will give a graduate an easier shot at landing a first job out of school. Maybe. But that’s really the only advantage, and it doesn’t last long. Once you’ve landed the job, you have to perform. If you don’t, your Harvard degree isn’t going to be worth the parchment it’s printed on. And if you do perform, nobody is going to much care that you went to the University of Central Oklahoma.”
Joe Nocera, Bloomberg

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

The left supports eliminating the electoral college, arguing that all votes should count equally regardless of which state they're from.

“One popular defense of rising inequality is that it hurts no one: Sure, rich people keep getting richer, but if everyone else is also getting richer, albeit more slowly, why should the masses care, other than jealousy? Corruption, routine and pervasive, is why we should care… Excess wealth doesn’t just buy shiny things. It buys power and influence, it buys class and it buys permanence. It buys the corrupt certainty that every one of life’s problems might be evaded through some special side door, and it does so at the expense of not just the poor but all of us, shattering even the thin illusion of meritocracy that still somehow seduces American politics.”
Farhad Manjoo, New York Times

“A scam like this could exist only because competitive sports occupy a ridiculously large place in the admissions process… I have a lot of admiration for students who are talented enough and work hard enough to play sports in college. But they are not a different species. It’s time to end the extreme special treatment that colleges give to so many of them.”
David Leonhardt, New York Times

“This entire scheme was just another way for the rich to get richer and for the privileged to obtain even more privilege, all while exploiting a flawed and infinitely corruptible college athletics system that is primarily subsidized by the unpaid labor of men’s basketball and football players— predominantly black students who put their bodies and brains on the line without earning a dime for their talents.”
Lindsay Gibbs, ThinkProgress

“The simplest way [to fix this crisis] would likely be for selective institutions to stop being so selective and enroll more students… Selective institutions would undoubtedly take a ‘prestige hit’ because of that, but it could alter the way parents think about college: not as social capital to be bought, but as an opportunity for learning and growth… If elite schools enrolled more students and forfeited some prestige, maybe there wouldn’t be such angst about who does or doesn’t get into any one in particular.”
Adam Harris, The Atlantic

Others note that “[Warren] has provided more detail on Medicare financing than Sanders has. She has also provided more overall policy detail, including on the taxes she would raise, than Joe Biden or Pete Buttigieg. And her Medicare plan comes much, much closer to paying for itself than various Republican tax cuts. I wish the conservatives complaining about her plan applied the same rigor to their own ideas… The biggest weakness of Warren’s approach is that it tries to bulldoze through the sizable public anxiety about radical changes to the health care system. Warren would not let people opt into Medicare, a wildly popular idea. She would force them to join… she needs to come up with a reassuring transition plan soon.”
David Leonhardt, New York Times

“Trump’s defenders will say this evidence is all circumstantial. But circumstantial evidence is not weak evidence: it’s simply evidence based on the circumstances in which an act of wrongdoing is committed — such as the license plate of a car that speeds away from a bank just after that bank is robbed. Criminals are convicted on such evidence all the time. They will also say that there’s no explicit quid pro quo proposal here. But… ‘even when a corrupt deal is struck implicitly, the government can still prosecute extortion on a quid pro quo basis. Circumstantial evidence can be enough to prove a criminal exchange.’…

“In the absence of an explicit quid pro quo over restarting aid, the context and circumstances are what will become the focus of the investigation. There is enough here to support impeachment. Whether it is also enough to convince Republicans and lead to removal is another matter.”
Noah Feldman, Bloomberg

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) “insisted the president couldn’t possibly have done anything wrong because, in the end, Ukraine got its money without committing to any investigations. This point of view has radical implications for America’s system of justice and overcrowded prisons, if Mr. Jordan in fact truly believes that all inmates convicted of attempted crimes are innocent of wrongdoing… Perhaps the most telling remark was offered by a Republican staff lawyer, Stephen Castor, who suggested that while the president’s behavior may have been highly irregular, ‘it’s not as outlandish as it could be.’ Here’s a tip: When ‘not as outlandish as itcould be’ is your strongest defense, it’s time to rethink your position.”
Editorial Board, New York Times

From the Right

The right argues that Bevin’s loss was an outlier, but nevertheless is concerned about what the overall results say about GOP prospects.

From the Right

“A college degree, no matter the issuing institution, used to mean something — it had a currency of reputability that indicated education, erudition, and a capacity for critical thought. But when we started pushing everyone to get a college degree, it lost its value

“Some people aren’t meant to go to college. They aren’t any less intelligent or hard working than those who are. They just have better things to do with their time and money… a diploma — without the hard work, careful intellectual labor, and painful critical thought — is worth less than the paper it is written on.”
Karl Notturno, Daily Caller

“The system is broken. It always has been, and working-class Americans are paying for it… students who earn bachelor’s degrees have higher lifetime earnings than students with only a high school degree. So why have lawmakers promulgated policies like loan forgiveness, the in-school interest subsidy, and even ‘free’ college, to remove financial responsibility from the elite one-third of Americans who obtain the highly sought-after bachelor’s degree? The hardworking two-thirds of Americans who have bypassed this system altogether should not have to absorb the cost [via taxes] for students who are far more likely to achieve high career earnings.”
Mary Clare Anselem, Daily Signal

“IQ points are not distributed in accordance with any model of social justice. Some people are a lot smarter than others, and this gives them an enormous leg up in life — arguably a more important advantage than having parents with a few million dollars in their bank accounts…

“That life is not fair used to be a truism. Now, it is an unspeakable truth supported by reams of data. Tall men make more money and live longer. So do good-looking people… There are genetic factors related to personality traits that have enormous impact on our lives, our success, and our happiness. None of these is distributed fairly.”
Kevin D. Williamson, National Review

“Did Bill Taylor deliver the smoking-gun testimony House Democrats need to justify their drive for impeachment? Or did GOP Rep. John Ratcliffe ‘destroy’ the former Ukraine charges d’affaires in two minutes flat, as Nunes claimed last night?… The only way to really know what happened is to see the transcripts, and the serial leaks out of the SCIF make Schiff’s security arguments a bad joke… No one should trust any of these reports until we see the transcripts. In fact, no one should put any confidence in this process until it gets conducted openly, honestly, and fairly. House Republicans might have been conducting a stunt this morning, but the purpose of that stunt is spot-on. The House Democrats’ star-chamber approach is an affront to justice and due process, and their conduct in using selective leaks to goose public opinion from these proceedings is nothing short of despicable.”
Ed Morrissey, Hot Air

It’s worth noting that “conservative ideas were much more popular when not associated with the Republican party. In Washington State, voters narrowly rejected bringing affirmative action back to state contracting and university admissions…

“In Seattle, the self-proclaimed socialist city-council member appears to have lost her seat to a pro-business challenger. In Colorado, voters gave fiscal conservatives a big win by rejecting letting the state keep any tax revenues above the state spending cap, money that the state Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights currently guarantees as refunds to taxpayers. In Sussex County, N.J., voters approved, by a 2-to-1 margin, a referendum directing the local freeholder board to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (Washington, Colorado, New Jersey — notice these are places where Republican candidates have had no luck lately.)”
Jim Geraghty, National Review

“If a dozen drones or missiles can do the kind of damage to the world economy as did those fired on Saturday—shutting down about 6 percent of world oil production—imagine what a U.S.-Iran-Saudi war would do to the world economy. In recent decades, the U.S. has sold the Saudis hundreds of billions of dollars of military equipment. Did our weapons sales carry a guarantee that we will also come and fight alongside the kingdom if it gets into a war with its neighbors?… the nation does not want another war. How we avoid it, however, is becoming difficult to see. John Bolton may be gone from the West Wing, but his soul is marching on.”
Patrick Buchanan, The American Conservative

Others note, “I’d hate to be a Democratic member of Congress trying to convince Joe Sixpack that this is a whole new ballgame. The transcript shows Trump being Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky trying to ingratiate himself with the big dog by, for instance, mentioning that he stays at Trump hotels. Trump’s conversation is typically scattershot, wandering all over the field, leaving a reasonable listener puzzled about what the takeaways are supposed to be…

“I think Joe Sixpack’s response is going to be a hearty shrug. After all that has emerged about Trump so far, his approval rating is closely tracking Obama’s approval at the same point in his presidency. To get Mr. Sixpack’s attention you are going to have to do better than this.”
Kyle Smith, National Review

President Trump should be happy. As much as Warren is articulate, obviously intelligent, and energetically supported by Democrats, she would also be far easier to defeat than Joe Biden… Considering Trump's economy, the president is well placed to defeat Warren.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

A libertarian's take

“After adding in the ultra-millionaire’s tax and factoring in the other capital taxes Warren wants to levy — on financial transactions, on unrealized capital gains, on corporations — we’d be asking every billionaire to hand over more than two-thirds of their total wealth over a 10-year period. If the government actually managed to collect it, their fortunes would rapidly erode — and so would tax collections. The plan might be a good way to smash wealth, but it’s a terrible way to fund the nation’s health-care system…

“If Warren makes it to the White House, and tries to pass a plan, the Congressional Budget Office will eventually attach more reasonable numbers, with more defensible assumptions, sparking an even more spectacular political blowback than the one that greeted Friday’s announcement. Outside of the progressive Twitterati, there isn’t necessarily an enormous constituency for spending $20.5 trillion to herd every American into a national health insurance program; there would be even less support for spending what Warren’s plan would actually cost.”
Megan McArdle, Washington Post

On the bright side...

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