One of the current high profile stories in our culture involves how celebrities and power elite families have manipulated the system to give some of their marginally qualified children preferences in college admissions to elite universities.
Our anger is modified when we can put faces on the villains. Television stars Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin are among those in the current focus of public outrage.
While I understand the rage of regular folks who play by the rules and do not have inside connections or mega bucks to help their kids gain admission to coveted institutions, I argue that the focus on celebrity misdeeds is diverting our attention from the real culprit, the dependence of colleges and universities on test scores by the standardized testing industry.
The companies that administer such tests have no public oversight and are able to limit our children’s career options and paths to success simply by placing numbers next to their names. Institutions will claim such scores are not the determining factor in admissions, but, in reality, that is their prime purpose.
If celebrity and power elite children do not make the cut on standardized tests and are admitted because of improper influence, then one would assume they would not succeed. But if they are successful and ultimately graduate, one would have to assume the scores mean little.
As a high school teacher for 17 years, I saw too many cases in which good students did not test well on standardized exams, and it often altered their confidence and opportunities in life.
In one case, a young man wanted to be an engineer but was denied entrance into a major public university because of a low score on standardized exams. His teachers, including myself, wrote letters for him, and the university gave him a chance. He graduated as an engineer and continues to be a highly respected professional in this community. In other cases, our pleas on behalf of worthy students were not successful.
As for Felicity Huffman, she will be fine. She will spend her 14 days in prison and use the experience to become an advocate for prison reform and perhaps enhance her career as she gains more public sympathy for taking responsibility. After all, God – and the gossip-hungry public – love sinners, especially the redeemed sinner.
But when we talk about sentencing some of these folks up to 40 years in prison, I say give me a break. We do not give that time to child predators and others who commit heinous crimes. Perhaps these celebrities should hire Alex Acosta, the former labor secretary and U.S. Attorney who gave Jeffrey Epstein a big break all those years ago. I understand he needs a job.
In truth, career-aspiring prosecutors are playing to the mob, and these are show trials. Perhaps prosecutors should give some overdue attention to universities that give preferences to qualified and, obviously, sometimes questionably or marginally qualified children of families who are willing to purchase admission.
There are countless examples in which power elite families have managed to get their marginally qualified children admitted to certain institutions by giving huge financial gifts or supporting vanity building projects. The practice involves individuals from both the well-known and the obscure, and it includes both private and publicly-funded universities supported by tax dollars.
A series of emails and related documents recently released by a major west coast university gives validity to this issue. Adding insult to injury are the tax deductions the affluent receive for such donations.
The bottom line is that it should not matter if it is celebrities or other power elites with plenty of cash who are gaming the system because, at the end of the day, it is all just bribery.
Waymon E. Burke, Ph.D. is a history and political science instructor at Calhoun Community College who has taught at the high school, community college and university levels for 47 years. He is also the co-host with Dale Jackson of Yellowhammer’s “Guerrilla Politics,” a weekly political discussion broadcast on WAAY-TV in Huntsville.