The Morning Jolt


The Celebrity College-Admissions Scheme and Today’s Expectations of Students

Lori Loughlin of Fuller House at The Grove in Los Angeles, Calif., February 16, 2016. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Why all of those nutty celebrity parents in that college-admission corruptions scheme were just responding to incentives; the difficulty of building a strong union around the Green New Deal; an odd fixation on Joe Biden somehow being insufficiently sympathetic to African-Americans; and in New York, a new “Bell” is ringing.

Falsifying Ethnicity in College: Elizabeth Warren Was Ahead of Her Time

In 2014, former director of the California labor department Michael Bernick wrote in Time magazine, “whether your degree, for example, is from UCLA or from less prestigious Sonoma State matters far less than your academic performance and the skills you can show employers.”

Whether or not Bernick’s assessment is accurate, many Americans parents believe otherwise, as demonstrated by yesterday’s terrifically bizarre scandal involving a couple of Hollywood celebrities and a slew of lesser-known wealthy parents who bought their children admission to schools like Yale, Stanford, Wake Forest, Georgetown, and others — Including UCLA, the example of prestige Bernick selected.

As many suspected, just about every part of the college admissions process can be rigged to provide a leg up to those who are wealthy and unethical: bribing athletics coaches, faked learning disabilities, sending students copies of the SAT or ACT ahead of time, proctors correcting answers for students before submitting them for scoring, made-up honors and awards, “staged photographs of their children engaged in athletic activity” and falsifying students’ ethnicities and other biographical details to take advantage of affirmative action. (Elizabeth Warren was just ahead of her time, apparently.) This has been going on since at least 2011. Every single one of these students who had their admission obtained through bribes took away an opportunity that could have gone to better, harder-working student with more honest but poorer parents.

The full description is an epic portrait of graft, corruption, elitism, and sleaze that will leave you wanting to burn down the Ivory Tower. The cherry on top? The whole enterprise was granted tax-exempt nonprofit status by the Internal Revenue Status since 2013. Those Tea Party groups couldn’t get nonprofit status, but these crooks could.

If you wanted to pour gasoline onto the fires of populism, this is how you do it!

Were those parents crazy? Or were they just astute about the risk-reward analysis and long-term benefits of getting into one of the top 25 schools, instead of one of the top 50 or top 100?

We’ve heard all the stories about the “Harvard mafia.” A few years ago, Ross Douthat wrote “elite universities are about connecting more than learning, that the social world matters far more than the classroom to undergraduates, and that rather than an escalator elevating the best and brightest from every walk of life, the meritocracy as we know it mostly works to perpetuate the existing upper class.”

New York Times writer Amy Chozick shared yesterday, “I was literally told early in my career – by a top magazine editor – ‘Your clips are great, but we really want someone who went to Harvard.’” The replies to her indicate her story is not all that rare. Lots of folks have observed that many big-name journalism institutions run unpaid internship programs that are considered “How to get your foot in the door” — which automatically rules out anyone who can’t afford to provide anywhere from 15 to 40 hours of free labor each week. (National Review interns receive a stipend, in case you’re wondering.)

Is that top magazine editor that Chozick describes all that rare? Maybe not. Research by Lauren Rivera of the Kellogg School of Management indicated that law firms, investment banks, and consulting firms tend to hire applicants from well-known universities who were already “culturally similar” to the institution.

Employers sought candidates who were not only competent but also culturally similar to themselves in terms of leisure pursuits, experiences, and self-presentation styles. Concerns about shared culture were highly salient to employers and often outweighed concerns about absolute productivity.

In other words, if you don’t remind the elite employer making the hiring decision of himself, you’re less likely to be hired for the big job.

Sure, 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.

The hopeful sign for those of us with kids in school is that America’s education system has made some enormous strides in the past generation. Schools take bullying much more seriously than a generation ago. Way more teachers now understand that there are multiple learning styles, and that one child will remember information better if he processes it aurally while another will remember it better if he processes it visually. The technology involved is way better at a lot of schools a generation ago — some might argue too much better. My sons have way more group projects than I remember having, suggesting schools are emphasizing teamwork and figuring out how to coordinate efforts with others.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that if we as Americans wanted to louse up our children, we would probably come up with a system close to what we have now. In adolescence, around the time that a teen’s sleep cycle is changing and requiring more sleep, we compel them to get up earlier for middle and high school. We expect them to be generalists, at least competent and preferably excelling in math, science, English, history, a foreign language, art, drama, music, sometimes a separate class for computers, sometimes “shop class” or some version of home economics. No human being is good at everything, but they’re graded on everything. We expect them to learn these subjects in precise increments of time — no more even if their passions are stirred, no less even if they absorb and understand the subject matter quickly. They’re going through growth spurts, and we measure their athleticism in front of all of their peers. And during all of this, their hormones are raging. (Really, how many of  us who are adults choose to be a teenager again?)

In my high school, one sweet and well-meaning teacher would put any newspaper article featuring a student on the bulletin board. You can probably imagine what the bulletin board looked like after a month or two: It was covered in stories from the local sports pages about the athletics teams, and then at the end of the semester she would post the list of students who made the honor roll, running on page A12 of the Central Jersey Mallrat Gazette. She had the best of intentions, but think about the signal that sent about what the broader community valued in teenagers. Even today, think about how frequently you hear about students who you don’t know personally and who aren’t athletically gifted or felons. To see preteens excelling, you have to tune in to the National Spelling Bee on ESPN or It’s Academicstyle shows.

We tell our teenagers that how they perform on a particular standardized test plays a significant role in determining what higher-education options are available. We tell them that their class rank plays a big factor, so it’s not merely enough that they do well, they need others to not do as well as them. And then we tell them what how they perform during this maelstrom will shape their options in their adult life!

And this is all separate from the more-discussed problems of America’s teenagers — drinking, drugs, crime, violence, gangs, suicide.

Think about what those elite colleges want to see on a prospective student’s application: straight As, excellence in some sport, oodles of outside activities, president of the student council, lead in the school play, a small mountain of awards and recognitions, and some sort of essay or video about how going to volunteer in some third-world country one summer broadened their horizons and ignited their ambitions to “be the change they want to see in the world” or some sort of happy talk like that. Oh, and they overcame some significant challenge or obstacle and would bring diversity to the university community,

You might want your child to have all of that. But I suspect you’d be delighted if your child was just happy and had a good head on his or her shoulders — responsible, caring, good judgment.

No Green New Deal for the Blue-Collar Unions

When it comes to opposition to the Green New Deal, look for the union label!  Ten national labor unions on the AFL-CIO’s energy committee declared this week:

The Green New Deal resolution is far too short on specific solutions that speak to the jobs of our members and the critical sections of our economy. We will not accept proposals that could cause immediate harm to millions of our members and their families. We will not stand by and allow threats to our members’ jobs and their families’ standard of living go unanswered.

The Race to Discuss Race in the Presidential Race

Another critical assessment of former vice president Joe Biden’s record on race, this time in New York magazine.

It’s going to be fascinating to hear certain progressives arguing that Barack Obama’s vice president is somehow insufficiently committed to racial equality and justice, at a time when Ralph Northam is still governor of Virginia.

ADDENDUM: Hey, forget what I said about Barr yesterday, but that’s okay, because the New York Jets have obtained the most celebrated, high-profile, slightly-cracked Bell since that one in Philadelphia.

Does this mean the Pittsburgh Steelers get the . . .  no-Bell prize?


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