College Admissions

Felicity Huffman, 13 Others Plead Guilty in College Admissions Scandal

"I want to apologize to the students who work hard every day to get into college."

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Huffman
BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS/Newscom

The actress Felicity Huffman, accused of bribing SAT officials in order to improve her daughter's chances of getting into an elite college, joined 13 other defendants in pleading guilty to all charges Monday.

"I am in full acceptance of my guilt, and with deep regret and shame over what I have done, I accept full responsibility for my actions and will accept the consequences that stem from those actions," said Huffman. "I am ashamed of the pain I have caused my daughter, my family, my friends, my colleagues and the educational community. I want to apologize to them and, especially, I want to apologize to the students who work hard every day to get into college, and to their parents who make tremendous sacrifices to support their children and do so honestly."

Not among those pleading guilty: actress Lori Loughlin, who portrayed "Aunt Becky" on Full House, and is accused of making a $500,000 bribe to help her daughter gain admittance to the University of Southern California. The difference between Huffman's tone and Loughlin's could not be more stark: The latter actually signed autographs on her way to court last week.

Huffman has probably agreed to admit her guilt in exchange for a reduced sentence. Those involved in the conspiracy are likely facing hefty fines, community services, probation, and possibly short stints in prison. Most are wealthy enough that fines may not be a significant punishment—which is an issue, if the goal is to deter this kind of behavior in the future. On the other hand, it's hard to argue that public safety necessitates locking up a bunch of non-violent first-time offenders—the U.S. needs to imprison vastly fewer people—and the humiliation and other consequences for the kids (including loss of enrollment) will certainly sting.

The bigger issue is what to do about the college admissions system itself. This scandal has revealed how the wealthy were able to cheat their way in by bribing standardized testing officials and taking advantage of the athletic-industrial complex. The sheer amount of bureaucracy evidently makes higher education an easy target for grifters. As I wrote in my previous article about the scandal, "Time to Put the College Admissions System on a Rocket and Shoot It Into the Sun":

Indeed, athletic administrative bloat appears to be a significant contributing factor to the success of this scam. Many of the bribe-takers were coaches, and it's fairly worrying they have so much sway over the admissions process. One downside of forcing universities to hire a bunch of administrators—something federal guidance has encouraged for decades—is that there are more potential targets for Singer's schemes.

Unfortunately, colleges and universities routinely prioritize factors other than academic ability when making admissions decisions. Athletic considerations matter far too much, as do legacy connections. And of course, donating a new wing to the university's hospital or library is a good way to make sure your kid gets a second look. Singer took things much further, but it's a difference of degrees. As Frank Bruni wrote in The New York Times, "It may be legal to pledge $2.5 million to Harvard just as your son is applying—which is what Jared Kushner's father did for him—and illegal to bribe a coach to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars,but how much of a difference is there, really? Both elevate money over accomplishment. Both are ways of cutting in line."

The best remedy to this problem might be to admit that college is, to some degree, a scam. Note that these parents were evidently unconcerned that their kids—who were often coached to fake learning disabilities so they could get more time on the ACT and SAT—might struggle with their course loads. It's because college is a joke, and it's easy enough for an academically disinclined grifter—an Olivia Jade, if you will—to get by studying nonsense subjects. They're paying for the experience and the diploma, not the actual education.

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  1. Legitimate question:
    Other than mail fraud, what crimes are they accused of? The word used is bribe. But, while bribing a government official is illegal, how is this the same thing? I mean if I stand in line at the butcher shop, and I am number 9 in line. And I pay the butcher an extra $30 so I can go next and not wait in line, am I guilty of “bribery”?

    This kind of seems like unethical behavior, but I am not sure of why it is illegal.

    Or is the whole criminal thing mail fraud?

    1. “And I pay the butcher an extra $30 so I can go next and not wait in line, am I guilty of “bribery”?”

      That is an interesting analogy because if I was in line ahead of you, I would be a lot more pissed at the butcher than you. But everyone seems to hate the celebrity parents more than the administrators who are at the heart of the corruption

      1. Well, they’re just awful. That they are vacuous progtards doesn’t help. The college should shit can everyone involved, and those fired should be prosecuted if possible.

      2. I’ve never figured out how the briber is guilty of anything.
        The person taking a bribe bears full responsibility.

    2. There crime is bribing the employee not the institution. Everyone knows donating a wing to a school will get your kid in. That’s not a problem, in fact that’s a great thing. My college had it all but in writing that they took money from the rich kids to fund the scholarships of the poor kids. That’s a system working.

      What’s not working is when you bribe someone that doesn’t have the right to give you the benefit they hand out. Coach is taking a personal bribe that doesn’t benefit the institutions he’s a part of. To use your butcher example. It’s the difference between bribing a butcher that owns his store vs bribing the walmart butcher.

      1. “What’s not working is when you bribe someone that doesn’t have the right to give you the benefit they hand out.” that doesn’t really explain the difference. It’s like saying it’s worse to get the janitor to steal a pen from the bank even though the banker will let you have it if you ask

        1. I had wondered the same thing, slipping the ma?tre de a discreet “bribe” to jump the reservations queue is a generally-accepted practice, and if there’s a crime here it’s not much of one. It seems being a public figure makes you a high-profile target for being made an example of, which is not how justice is supposed to work. Sure, what these people did was gross and deplorable and despicable, but the possible punishment they may face seems wildly disproportionate. I mean, hell, they already have been sentenced to a lifetime of being themselves and what could be worse than being a shallow, self-centered douchebag?

          1. The outsized reaction reminds me of the Parkland shooting aftermath. The media comes down hard and fast because to ensure people don’t focus blame on the wrong people or institutions. We can’t have people criticizing government employees and institutions for their complete failures.

        2. If the company has authorized the banker to give out pens, but not the janitors, the banker has not stolen from the company, while the janitor has.

          Are the concepts of consent and contract foreign to you?

          1. The janitor could get in trouble, but the celebrity parents are the customer not the janitor in that analogy.

      2. The difference is that building the wing for the school is public knowledge, and the community as a whole knows the kid is only there because of that (i.e. Jared Kushner). Cheating is cheating. Basically, they weren’t rich enough to donate enough to influence admissions legally. That takes millions. They only spent in the thousands or hundreds of thousands.

    3. They are government employees I think in most of the cases. Most of the schools I saw were state schools. Yale was another one but perhaps (no idea guessing) since they except federal funded tuition that is put into the contract.

      1. Oh, I hadn’t heard that part of the story. I’d just assumed they were private institutions. That does put an even worse spin on things.

        1. Workers for private institutions still have to follow the rules of their institutions, and would be subject to fraud charges if they violated those rules to serve personal ends.

          1. The people taking bribes should be punished more severely than those offering bribes.
            The universities employing them should lose accreditation.

          2. ” would be subject to fraud charges if they violated those rules to serve personal ends.”

            And if the schools don’t press charges?

    4. Other than mail fraud, what crimes are they accused of?

      My understanding is Filliam H. Muffman is mostly in trouble because of certain tax claims made on “donations” to shell charities.

    5. If the butcher *owns* the shop, then he can set the rules he likes.

      The persons accepting the bribes had a fiduciary responsibility to the organizations they worked for. By taking bribes, they engaged in a breach of that responsibility. Those who gave the bribes were conscious co-conspirators to that breach.

      If you knowingly buy goods a worker stole from his company, you’re guilty of a crime.

    6. The news stories mention mail fraud and “honest services fraud.”

    7. I think some may have some IRS issues.

      The guy who headed the scam, Rick Singer , set up non-profit charity as a cover. Parents would donate to the charity, then money would be funneled to coaches and administrators to pay them off.

      So if a parent bribed Singer and he put the money into the non-profit and told the parent that they could deduct it on their return and they did so, they committed tax fraud.

    8. If there is no underlying crime, how is it mail fraud?

      These celebs are being targeted bc they are rich.

  2. Whatever changes are made to the college admissions process, we absolutely cannot get rid of affirmative action.

    #1100IsAnIvyLeagueSATScoreIfYoureBlack

    1. #SATScoresSoRacist

    2. Except if you’re Asian.

  3. It is interesting to see the same cancers metastasizing in the college system as grows in pretty much every large coordinated system. Colleges, Government, K-12 education- over the past 50 years, we have seen these institutions develop large administrative classes that don’t actually do any of the core work, but instead suck in money and form a breeding ground for exactly this corruption.

    Especially in education, these non-educating administrators have one key responsibility: to suck in more money. In my kids’ schools, they are constantly trying to push kids onto special needs plans. Kid has a lisp? Speech therapy! Kid a bit hyperactive? They need a helper in the class room! Once singled out for these plans, the kids are pretty much stuck on them for eternity, because the goal is not to help the kids, but to keep grant money coming in. Likewise, the college admissions system is largely designed to get money into the schools through diversity grants, money-making sports franchises, and as we see here, by encouraging the wealthy to open up their wallets.

    I don’t think blowing up the administrative bureaucracy is going to help. The incentives- from government grants, to college sports to cheap loans- will persist and something similar will grow to replace it.

    This administrative bloat happens in private industry as well. The only difference is that a private company that gets administrator top heavy will either have to cut those ranks or go out of business.

    1. “Private” enterprise is also subject to bureaucratic capture, it just *usually* has the check of the need to make a profit. Where private enterprises are basically printing money based on first mover and lock in effects, you get the same kind of dysfunction and corruption you see in government bureaucracies.

      It’s most accurate to view government/corporate bureaucracies as parasites feeding off a host. Controlling the apparatchik class is one of the foremost problems of the West.

      Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy:
      In any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control and those dedicated to the goals the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely.

      Bureaucracy of the bureaucracy, by the bureaucracy, and for the bureaucracy is the *rule*, not the exception.
      An ideological “conspiracy” is required to make a bureaucracy anything *but* that.

  4. I think this was a strategic mistake for the FBI to go after the upper class, which until now they could rely on for support. Remember that much of our goodwill toward these agencies comes from movies and TV shows, which is produced and financed by these people. I almost wonder what the heck they were thinking. This racket was an open secret and should have been exposed by media not law enforcement. The solution is for colleges to open slots that families can use to buy admission if the kid is not accepted. Then everyone wins because the college can use the money to fund scholarships for the less fortunate.

    1. You’re missing the part about apparatchik fraud.

      Having colleges *openly* and *non-fraudulently* sell slots won’t remove the power of apparatchiks to commit this fraud. It may make it easier, as a form of official sanction.

  5. Hilary had a pay to play scheme going – among other things – and she’ll never have to account for it. Excuse me if I won’t pile onto this.

    1. Can’t get all the corruption. Doesn’t mean we don’t get the corruption we can.

      #LockHerUp

    2. By rights, Hillary should be executed for treason.

  6. This was almost as big a waste of law-enforcement resources as the Jussie Smollett “attack.”

  7. “On the other hand, it’s hard to argue that public safety necessitates locking up a bunch of non-violent first-time offenders”

    Once upon a time, Reason had libertarian writers who saw that force *and* fraud are crimes.

    But now the fraud of the ruling class is dismissed as a trivial matter meriting nothing more than a stern “Tsk! Tsk! Tsk!”

    1. My take is that we know rich people and those with the right connections can get their stupid kids into elite colleges and buy them a degree. It was no surprise to hear about rich people doing this and the only shock was the indirect manner they went about doing so. The “fundies” in school were douches and it was pretty clear they weren’t getting passed due to intelligence or effort. I ultimately don’t really care that they do this but reserve the right to call them assholes for it. I think prosecuting them for bribes is unnecessary. If anything, action should be taken against whoever accepted the bribes. If we were talking about blackmail then the story changes completely

  8. No jail time, but fine them to the point where they are struggling middle class.

    1. Fines for *criminal* actions should be scaled by net assets.

      1. Cool. So, add long as I’m poor enough I can run a ponzi scheme. Of course, if it’s successful, I won’t be poor when I’m caught… hmm… need to to think about this…

      2. Just pay restitution + interest + 100% punitive fine.

  9. I want to apologize for getting caught.

    –Al Capone

  10. Those apologies are pure and complete bullshit.
    Remember, these are actors!
    Maybe no jail time, but 3 days and nights in the stocks?
    Fines are laughed off by this crowd. Revoke their SAG membership and leave them out of work for 4 years, and maybe you get a real ‘sorry’.

  11. Don’t recognize most of the people involved, and while it is ‘buying your way in’, am I to assume the ‘victims’ are the maybe twenty five (or so) kids who supposedly lost their place in line? Or is it the alums who are cheated out of a star crew member in place of the kid who thinks an oar is a garden shovel?
    I’m going out on a very short limb and point out that affirmative action denied far more qualified people a place at the table than this did.
    None of the folks deserve or get my sympathy, but this should be on the desk of a low-level agent in Bakersfield.

  12. Am I supposed to care about this?

    1. Exactly.
      Please tell me who the victims are here (and back it with something other than ‘more deserving kids – twaddle, twaddle…’), and why it is other tan day-time TV filler.
      I’m just cynical enough to think the major networks realize they’ve been busted for peddling bullshit for the past 2+years, and are now scrambling to find an issue which may be totally irrelevant, but at least isn’t out-and-out lies.

      1. Oh, and wouldn’t. If that’s the best the makeup crew can deliver, I’d hate to see the raw material.

  13. The problem is that nobody cares about the victims anymore, our values and principles.

    This is blatantly fraud, and many comments here amount to, “so what, how can we get in on the action?”

    In a free market it makes sense to fine criminals, essentially becoming complicit with the crime. Justice is the organized crime boss skimming proceeds. The problem becomes what to do with poor criminals who can’t pay.

    When crime becomes a crucial part of our economy it defines and demonstrates the character of a nation.

    Look in the fucking mirror.

    Social media has turned the lights on and neither the roaches nor the tenants care. Not to worry though, the fix is in. Censoring social media and turning the lights back off. Nothing to see folks.

  14. apologising only because she got caught.

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  16. If you donate enough money to build a building, your kid gets in and nobody complains.

    I guess the crime is that their bribes weren’t big enough.

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