A Maryland businessman Jie “Jack” Zhao paid Harvard University’s former fencing coach at least $1.5 million in bribes, including payments for a car and a house in the suburbs, to get his sons admitted to the Ivy League school, federal prosecutors said in a criminal complaint released Monday.
This is just another case in the ongoing college admissions fraud investigation, the largest of its kind ever prosecuted, that so far includes more than 50 defendants across six states, millions of dollars in illegally funneled funds, and a handful of the country’s most selective universities.
These parents have either found ways to cheat on the SAT or ACT, or they bribed college coaches to get their children into school with fake athletic credentials.
Stuff like this has likely been going on for decades. This investigation likely represents a tiny drop in the enormous bucket of fraud that exists in college admissions.
I hate it. I hate it so much.
I have always despised the exclusive nature of the colleges and universities. A student who works hard, earns excellent grades, and serves her community with distinction cannot be admitted to a school like Harvard or Yale if a similar student also has parents who donated money to the school’s new biotech facility or previously attended the school or currently serve in the United States Senate.
While the parents swept up in this current investigation are using illegal bribes to gain access to these schools, money often plays a role even when parents are following the rules:
Parents with the means and capacity to fund their child’s academic or athletic careers with coaches, training, equipment, and other resources gain access to these more prestigious universities, leaving other students with just as much or more potential out. These are not bribes, of course, but when one family can afford an SAT coach or a decade of professional swim instruction or a million dollar donation, the similarities between these legal and illegal means of entry are stark:
Parents use their wealth to purchase entrance into these colleges and universities for their children. The more savvy parents use their money in perfectly legal ways, whereas the more brazen parents bribe coaches and other colleges officials.
Jie “Jack” Zhao, for example, bribed a fencing coach.
Conan O’Brien, who also attended Harvard, grew up in Brookline, MA, which is currently rated the best suburb in America. His father is a physician, epidemiologist, and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. His mother is a retired attorney and former partner at Ropes & Gray, a global law firm based in Boston.
O’Brien’s parents sound like lovely people engaged in noble pursuits, but does anyone think that their wealth, influence, and connections didn’t play a role in O’Brien’s acceptance into Harvard?
They certainly didn’t bribe an admissions official. They broke no laws. But the system is set up to favor someone like Conan O’Brien over an equally talented, equally hard working kid growing up ten miles south in Roxbury to blue collar parents.
I hate this.
Growing up, the word “college” was never spoken to me. Not by my parents. Not by a teacher or guidance counselor. In fact, in the six years spent in my high school – grades 7-12 – I never set foot in my high school’s guidance office even once.
As a result, I came to believe that college was not a place for me.
As a result, I didn’t make it to college until I was 23 years old. I didn’t graduate until I was 28 years old. Yale University eventually offered me a full scholarship after two years of achievement at a community college, but I turned it down and instead accepted a scholarship to Trinity College so that I could continue managing a McDonald’s restaurant down the road while attending school.
Can you imagine?
I passed on Yale because I still needed to continue working full time in order to survive.
And I was one of the lucky ones. Damn lucky. I managed to eventually find my way to school. I escaped jail and homelessness by the skin of my teeth. I had the capacity and ability to work full time and learn full time.
How many kids get as lucky as me? How many of those blue collar kids in Roxbury find their way to college, let alone an Ivy League school?
I hate this.
I hate the privilege that this system confers and perpetuates on the wealthiest of students. I hate the way it consolidates wealth and power into a shrinking segment of society. I hate the way that a graduate from an Ivy League school is perceived as highly accomplished despite the fact that so many of them were born on third base and already rounding home. I hate the way that the names of these prestigious schools are so often mentioned in the media as signals of intelligence and achievement.
This is before the bribes. Before the criminality of people like Jack Zhao.
The system is already stacked in favor of the wealthy. It elevates kids who have already been living on top of the world. It holds back highly capable, hard working, tenacious kids who lack the means to take full advantage of their talents.
I hate it.
Here’s my proposal:
Any school found guilty of accepting bribes should immediately open up 51% of their admissions for the next ten years to low income students from low income neighborhoods. Ignore the legacy students and world class ping pong players and even the valedictorians. Find some high quality students with solid B and C averages who spent their afternoons and summers working part time jobs and playing video games and caring for aging grandparents.
Kids with enormous potential but tiny bank accounts. Kids who are at least as capable as a silver spoon scumbag like Jared Kushner, whose father donated millions to Harvard before his son was accepted.
Punish these cheating scumbag parents, but also punish these schools for allowing this to happen. And in the process, open the doors to kids who deserve more and are often forced to make do with less.
Break this cycle of privilege. End this system that consolidates wealth. Give honest, hard working kids the break they deserve.