Is Operation Varsity Blues really about wealth and privilege?
Boston U. S. Attorney Andrew Lelling, who broke the case charging parents and university officials with cheating on college admissions applications, thinks so. He called the complicit parents, “a catalog of wealth and privilege.”
It’s true, the parents all shelled out big bucks--Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli, to name two, allegedly paid $500,000 to get their daughters into USC. Such flaunting of wealth has upset a lot of people. According to this blogger in the Intelligencer,
As the first person in my family to attend college, I was appalled to see wealthy parents cheat the system to the detriment of children who worked hard but lacked their wealth. We should also use these prosecutions to launch a broader debate about a system that compares wealthy students who receive private tutors and submit applications prepared by professionals with students who can barely afford the application fees.
But focusing on the wealth takes the emphasis off the real issue--fraud. Apparently, even the accused are baffled. Many are not sure that they did anything wrong. According to prison consultant Justin Paperny,
What's most surprising to me about the first conversation is how many of them didn't view their actions as criminal.
Strip away the veneer of wealth, and we have just one more example of academic dishonesty. It is commonly accepted on college campuses that everyone cheats, and apparently, if everyone is doing it, it can’t be wrong. Over half of college students admit to cheating. They buy research papers outright, for example, or pay for “writing services.” One such service even provides college students with a cheating checklist.
Retired Rutgers Business School Professor Donald L. McCabe spent most of his career researching academic cheating and concluded that students are indifferent to the moral implications of cheating:
It’s no big deal. That’s been the most disappointing and frustrating thing, McCabe said. There’s a generation that’s willing to do anything they have to do to get the job done.
Just to clarify, McCabe published his studies. He even published a book about it. Cheating on college campuses is no secret. Operation Varsity Blues is just the most high-profile example. The problem is not the wealth and fame of the accused, however. The problem is a lack of integrity, a lack that is apparent, if not fostered, beginning in elementary school. It is so widespread, that academic honesty can seem maladaptive.
“A house can have integrity, just like a person, and just as seldom,” said Howard Roark in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. Roark was not impressed with what he saw during his college years either.
Maybe The Fountainhead should be required reading on college campuses, although for now it would have to come with a disclaimer: Peter Keating is one of the Bad Guys.