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Harvard University. The Scandal of our Schools.

CULTURE

The Scandal of Our Schools.

Americans are learning that our “meritocracy” is a scam.

In March of this year, the world of higher education was rocked when the Justice Department announced the largest conspiracy case in history involving college admissions. The scheme’s ringleader, William Rick Singer, had not only bribed college officials, but found ways to inflate entrance exam scores and falsify athletic credentials in order to get children from over 750 families into elite colleges over the course of seven years. Singer’s scheme incriminated school administrators, sports coaches, parents, students, school psychologists, exam officials—in other words, the entire system.

It’s time to face an ugly truth: our “world-class institutions” are now dens of corruption and elitism.

Then things got worse for America’s elite schools. In June, Harvard University admitted that it had received at least $9 million in donations from the infamous pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, and that Harvard had no interest in giving the money back. Why was Harvard taking gifts from criminals? And why was Harvard keeping those gifts after they got caught?

These scandals have seriously corroded the reputation of our world-famous university system. For Americans—who’ve placed so much faith in higher education—there seems to be a dawning realization that our colleges might be rotten to the core. It’s time to face an ugly truth: our “world-class institutions” are now dens of corruption and elitism. They’ve traded in their mission of preserving our shared cultural heritage for vulgar profiteering.

Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman. Operation Varsity Blues.

Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman.

OUR MERITOCRACY IS A SCAM

The admissions bribery scandal, codenamed Operation Varsity Blues by the FBI, charged 51 people with “gaming” the system but it “caught” many more. Sure, it brought down actresses like Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin (Aunt Becky!), but it also nabbed hedge fund managers and the chairman of a big law firm. You know: the leaders of our fake meritocracy. This group of upper middle class “strivers” were not wealthy enough to bribe their way in the old-fashioned way (through large donations), so they scammed their way in by buying bogus spots on WASP-y sports teams like sailing. The scandal laid bare that our college admissions system is not transparent because it’s so corrupt: it’s a lucrative scheme where water polo coaches at prestigious schools got paid millions of dollars to claim that bird-brained Hollywood kids “were third-string but on the team.”

The harder you look at our meritocracy, the less merit you find.

Behind the bribery cases were even deeper problems. One of the most galling revelations of Operation Varsity Blues was that wealthy parents were paying to get their children diagnosed with fake learning disabilities so that they could be allowed extra time (and even a calculator!) on exam day. Gordon Caplan, a prominent New York attorney, told his daughter, “to be stupid, not as smart as she is,” while being evaluated by a psychologist for extra time on her ACT exam. “The goal is to be slow, to be not as bright,” said a complaining witness. It turns out there’s an epidemic of cheating on standardized exams like the SAT. Wealthy parents can pay for someone else to take their kid’s exam, or for the exam proctor to help the cheaters, or both.

If we can’t trust our standardized exams, can we trust our grades? No, we cannot. Everybody seems to know this intuitively. Grade inflation is so bad at Harvard it was described as “indefensible” by Harvey Mansfield, who would know: he’s served on the Harvard faculty for more than five decades. (The median grade at Harvard is A-). And the problem isn’t confined to colleges. A whopping 47% of our high school students had an A average in 2016. The harder you look at our meritocracy, the less merit you find.

How could all that happen? How could anyone explain the mafia-style racketeering of not just Singer but of the soccer coaches, the child therapists, and the SAT exam proctors? Simple: our universities are no longer in the business of educating Americans, but of making money. There’s no longer even the slightest pretence otherwise. (One friend who teaches at an elite college told me his school is flooded with Korean students who can’t read or write any English at all. Of course, they all graduate too, he assured me.)

Our colleges will give you a diploma if you pay them enough cash.

Chinese students graduating from American colleges.

Chinese students graduating from American colleges.

AMERICAN SCHOOLS ARE NO LONGER FOR AMERICANS

Shortly after the fallout from “Operation Varsity Blues” dissipated, Harvard University (in a transparent attempt to flip the media cycle in their favor), feigned outrage over a single Palestinian student who had been admitted to the university, but was refused entry by border officials because anti-American messages were found on his social media accounts. This “indignity” appalled Harvard President Lawrence Bacow (not to be confused with Jeffrey Epstein’s pal, and former Harvard President Lawrence Summers). Bacow penned a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, sharing his “deep concern” about the trouble international students were having entering the United States, which apparently threatened his university’s “higher ideals and cultural mission.”

Indeed, what does the safety and security of Americans matter compared to our cultural enrichment! But let’s set aside the question of what kind of “diversity and enrichment” a student who was denied entry by Customs and Border Patrol could offer—why are any Palestinian students getting coveted spots at Harvard? Simple: their parents pay more money. President Bacow is really concerned with cash, not culture.

Why are American taxpayers subsidizing a college system that routinely declines admission to their sons and daughters in favor of people who are not even citizens of this country?

Foreign students pay higher tuition fees, particularly at public colleges. American universities are getting richer by turning down our own children.

The American college system has spent the last thirty years attempting to bankrupt the middle class over absurd tuition costs. These costs have increased far more than inflation—at a rate of almost eight times faster than wages. With tuition rates starting at $40,000 per year, these colleges have maxed out what Americans can afford, even with ballooning student loans. Instead of confronting their absurd runaway spending, our schools have decided to leave us high and dry in favor of foreign students and their higher tuition rates. Now, Americans can’t get into their own colleges—even when paying full price.

That’s far more troubling than just the cost of college. Don’t these schools belong to us? Apparently, they don’t think so anymore. They’re more like globalized brands with international appeal: think Apple or Facebook. Sure, they’re located in the United States, but that’s where the common identity ends. That’s why Harvard President Bacow could be so high-handed about a Palestinian student a few weeks after keeping Epstein’s dirty money. Harvard isn’t part of America—it’s above it. It doesn’t answer to us anymore.

Why, for example, are there more than 350,000 Chinese students attending American colleges right now? Why would we allow taxpayer-funded colleges to educate the children of Chinese Communist Party elites? Such questions are simply not asked. Our educational system is an autonomous zone, like the Federal Reserve, apparently. Who would question the wisdom of having nearly half a million Communist Party kids wandering around America every year, with many doing their best to learn English so they can spy on us more effectively?

We’re avoiding a central question: do American schools exist to educate American students? Of course, the answer is obviously that they should. So why are American taxpayers subsidizing a college system that routinely declines admission to their sons and daughters in favor of people who are not even citizens of this country? Why are we being bankrupted by institutions that are simultaneously getting subsidized by us?

That’s a scam. Harvard (to take the most egregious and arrogant case) took almost $4 billion in federal funds from 2011- 2015. Yet it pretends to be a private university when it’s convenient. Harvard should refund our money, and take in all the Palestinian and Chinese students and secret Jeffrey Epstein donations that it wants. What it shouldn’t be allowed to do is take in both.

Our universities are simply selling themselves to the highest bidder. There’s nothing ethical or moral or polite about it.

Harvard University. Seize the endowments.

Harvard University.

SEIZE THE ENDOWMENTS

Taking money from convicted pedophiles, it turns out, is a group activity for college presidents. MIT and Stanford have their own Epstein donation scandals now too. Harvard is the rule, not the exception, when it comes to elite universities. Another group activity: colleges taking public money they don’t need. A study released in 2017 revealed that over a six-year period, the Ivy League took in over $41 billion in public benefits. In doing so, they brought in more money from taxpayers than from undergraduate tuition. Our elite schools are parasites, saddling young students with crushing debt that hinders their ability to get married or buy a house.

Between the legacies, the rich foreigners, the scam artists, and the sports scholarships—where’s the achievement? Just ask a professor and they’ll tell you: there isn’t any.

As late as the 1970s, most universities in the United States charged so little that they were practically free. Now they behave like payday loan centers that conduct classes as a side-business. The Ivy League has so much money that it could offer free tuition to all its students in perpetuity. It’s got $2 million for every undergraduate right now. So why do we hand it $120,000 per year for every one of those undergraduates in public monies, subsidies, and favorable tax treatments? Why does it spend millions on lobbyists to get even more? In what way are they behaving like private schools?

You can see why “College-gate” enraged the American middle class: it exposed the corrupt aristocratic core of our fake meritocracy. It’s not just that our “educated elite” is neither educated nor elite. It’s not just that the richest kids are donating, or bribing, or cheating their way into school. It’s that our “elite” schools are being subsidized by middle class families, whose children those schools routinely exclude. That’s why there’s a lethal crisis of credibility in American education now. Nothing in the system survives scrutiny.

How did we get here? How is it possible that 33% of Harvard’s incoming freshman class in 2018 were the children of Harvard graduates? What we have now is a system for wealthy people to claim their offspring are educated so that we appear egalitarian. We don’t want an aristocracy, so we pretend instead that rich kids “earned their place” by attending college. That’s not building a meritocracy. That’s hiding privilege.

Between the legacies, the rich foreigners, the scam artists, and the sports scholarships—where’s the achievement? Just ask a professor and they’ll tell you: there isn’t any. Our meritocracy is a farce. It’s a fraud perpetrated on the American public using taxpayer dollars.

That must stop. It’s time we had transparent college admissions. It’s time that we cut off the public funding of these “private” boondoggle tax shelters. It’s time to treat our universities the same way that we treat Ponzi schemes or predatory telemarketers—by seizing their assets and prosecuting people for fraud, if necessary. We should have a meritocracy, not a bogus aristocracy.

Written By

Garrick Davis is an American poet and critic. He is the founding editor of the Contemporary Poetry Review.

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