News

Editorial: The audacity of privilege

College-admission bribery scandal exposes sense of invincibility and entitlement of the wealthy and powerful

Sadly, the most frequently heard reaction among local residents last week to the news that 33 parents across the nation, including six who call the Palo Alto area home, had bribed their children's way into college, was not shock or surprise.

Instead, it was the belief that these indictments were just the "tip of the iceberg."

That characterization reflects a pervasive feeling of parental insecurity over the ability for even the most highly qualified high school students to win admission to schools as "good" as the ones their parents attended. For too many high-powered, hard-driving, accomplished parents the possibility that their children might not be accepted by a prestigious university threatens to shatter their dreams and expectations, denies them bragging rights and feels like a failure of parental responsibility.

It is a feeling that has led many families to engage expensive tutors, test-prep courses and private college advisers who help with everything from selection of good-fit schools to the writing of college application essays. This has become a major industry, especially in affluent, highly educated communities like those on the Midpeninsula, and the more families hear of others investing in these services the more pressure they feel to join the race to gain advantage.

And we now learn that this parental anxiety, combined with a sense of entitlement, has also fueled an enormous criminal enterprise, somehow rationalized as not that different from making large donations to a university or taking advantage of special admissions consideration for legacies, star athletes or other special talents.

Among just the 33 parents indicted last week, bribes totaling $25 million were allegedly paid to obtain college acceptances through a scheme that involved payments to bogus a nonprofit, inviting parents to have the audacity to deduct the bribes on income-tax returns.

The alleged mastermind of the scheme, Rick Singer, 58, of Newport Beach, pleaded guilty last week and has been cooperating with federal authorities for more than a year, assisting prosecutors obtain evidence against the parents who paid him to orchestrate college admissions for their kids.

As explained in court documents, Singer used his contacts developed over many years doing legitimate college consulting to create opportunities for what he coined "side door" admissions instead of the standard "front door" application process that most college applicants use or the "back door" strategy of making major donations to the desired university in exchange for admission.

In affluent areas like the Midpeninsula, Singer built a network of clients and referrals, some utilizing his perfectly legal advisory services, and others, more desperate and risk-taking, lured into Singer's pay-to-play scheme. He allegedly paid off college coaches to help grease admission for unqualified students, arranged for impostors to take SAT and ACT tests or planted and paid for test administrators to turn a blind eye toward cheating.

Apart from criminal prosecutions serving as a deterrent and scaring parents away from the "side door," the vulnerabilities in the admissions system are already under scrutiny by state and federal legislators, most of the colleges who admitted students under the bribery scheme and, we hope, by the College Board, ACT and high school administrators.

It is not encouraging that the ACT and College Board websites lack any statements about the scandal nor announce any investigations of their procedures, which prosecutors believe were compromised by Singer to obtain higher test scores for his clients. These testing services are profiting from the same parental anxiety and entitlement that led to the alleged criminal conduct.

They and high school administrators, whose facilities are used as test centers and whose staff often serve as test proctors, should be examining how to tighten up procedures to, among other things, rotate proctors and flag students who are not taking the tests in their home districts or have waivers allowing extra time. And colleges must investigate admission practices to protect against improper influence by individual employees, including athletic coaches.

But the more important problem is how parents define success for their children. The arms race aimed at gaining advantage over others in college admissions is fueling student stress and unhappiness, increased risk of depression and suicide and now exposes parents and their children to prosecution and public humiliation. With the wealthy and influential already having so many advantages, such parents need to recognize that it is their kids, not them, who must find their passions and pursue their own dreams for a happy and fulfilling life.

Related content:

• Listen to the March 15 episode of "Behind the Headlines," where Palo Alto college adviser John Raftrey discusses the implications of the nationwide admissions bribery scandal, now available on our YouTube channel and podcast.

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Stanford students file class action lawsuit in admissions scandal

Ex-global equity firm exec, a grad of Gunn High, implicated in admissions scam

Opinion: Making the college-admissions system more equitable

Opinion: Lessons parents should learn from the college-admissions scandal

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In response to college-admissions scandal, Stanford to probe policies, current athletic recruits

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Comments

48 people like this
Posted by A Snitch Just Trying To Save His Hide
a resident of Los Altos
on Mar 22, 2019 at 8:32 am

from the Palo Alto Weekly:

"Rick Singer, 58, of Newport Beach, pleaded guilty last week and has been cooperating with federal authorities for more than a year, assisting prosecutors obtain evidence against the parents who paid him to orchestrate college admissions for their kids."

What a guy. He takes the parent's money & is now finger pointing at them.

A plea bargain in exchange for reduced time in prison? That is usually the offer when it comes to 'cooperation' with the authorities.

Lucky for him he isn't a Mob informant.


14 people like this
Posted by pearl
a resident of another community
on Mar 22, 2019 at 11:59 am

pearl is a registered user.

Two excellent books addressing this topic:

The Price of Admission - How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way Into Elite Colleges-And Who Gets Left Outside The Gates, by Daniel Golden

Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be - An Antidote To The College Admissions Mania, by Frank Bruni


22 people like this
Posted by Broken values.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 22, 2019 at 1:17 pm

Broken values. is a registered user.

People who lack character are not "accomplished." These ethically impaired people should suffer legal repercussions for their bad behavior. Criminal records should take them out of consideration for any future job that requires application of ethics and good character--which would include any leadership position at any level.

There are many families with money who are decent people with excellent values, who are grateful for the privileges they enjoy that come with wealth--who do not cheat and share their wealth generously as an act of gratitude. Please do not paint all people with the same brush. It gives people the wrong impression that immoral behavior has been normalized among people of certain economic status or ethnicity. This is a bigoted view. There are good and bad people of all ethnicities and economic circumstances. This is a sad fact of human nature that we must guard against.

Truly "accomplished" people of any ethnicity or economic status have strong character and a deeply rooted set of values that make them great leaders. Trained intelligence that is not grounded in strong character and ethics is dangerous. Let's teach our children well.


6 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 22, 2019 at 1:37 pm

Before you encourage flagging students "who are not taking the tests in their home districts," please take into account that students often **can't** take the test(s) in their home districts because all the slots are taken. This was our experience - deciding between, as I recall, the far East Bay, far South San Jose and Marin...


22 people like this
Posted by Pay to Attend is legal
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 22, 2019 at 3:38 pm

Pay to Attend is legal is a registered user.

The crime was these folks did not want to pay full price. Jared Kushner's family paid Harvard $2.5 million so he could attend and who honestly thinks Trump had the test scores or grades to attend U Penn (he's threatened his schools to sue them if they release them). I'd prefer to see a ban on allowing donors preference, especially, when the students are not otherwise qualified.


8 people like this
Posted by Illuminato
a resident of another community
on Mar 22, 2019 at 3:42 pm

The editorial board tried to mix in "privilege" and "entitlement", in the left-wing sense of "you're the one who fits in and got invited to the party, and that's making someone else jealous." In fact, if you're privileged and entitled, you don't need to be bribing anyone. That's for the under-privileged. Better luck next time.


4 people like this
Posted by Hypocrite
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 22, 2019 at 5:23 pm

[Post removed.]


13 people like this
Posted by Hypocrite
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 22, 2019 at 6:33 pm

Make sure your send in your donations. Clearly the weekly- is struggling financially, given that a pop up comes up on the website asking for you tip "buy" a membership (i.e. give money) and they are giving away their product for free ( yes, they want you to "donate" to cover their bad business model,). Donate early and often. Remember the weekly is s city "treasure ". [Portion removed.]


11 people like this
Posted by @hypocrite
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 22, 2019 at 7:48 pm

It is really hard to follow your logic

Personally I think we are lucky to have the weekly and am very happy to pay for the privilege. Articles are well researched, and it is far higher standard of journalism than the post or the Mercury.

Flick the chip off your shoulder


7 people like this
Posted by Hypocrite
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 22, 2019 at 8:03 pm

[Post removed.]


66 people like this
Posted by Censored
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 22, 2019 at 8:52 pm

Agree with Hypocrite, this is a highly slanted publication (note I did not state “news”, it’s primarily opinion based reporting). Even more sad is while alternate views are expressed here in the comments, the majority don’t see them, most read the hard copy. [Portion removed.]

I was banned from MV Voice permanently and when I emailed Johnson directly asking why (my comments were not offensive or to my knowledge against “terms”) his response was that it’s his publication and he has the right to determine what’s posted. Indeed he does....I just wish that this community would open their eyes to the slanted versions of “news” that they’re reading, I honestly don’t think people understand how influenced their thoughts are by a very biased media.


17 people like this
Posted by pearl
a resident of another community
on Mar 22, 2019 at 9:04 pm

pearl is a registered user.

Huh? I thought this was a discussion about college admission.


8 people like this
Posted by Censored
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 22, 2019 at 9:09 pm

The discussion is directly related to the article referenced “audacity of priveledge”. It is noted that the writer of the article has taken certain artistic license to phrase things in a particular slant, hence the comments about this publications’ bias.

Pretty sure you just made my point.


3 people like this
Posted by pearl
a resident of another community
on Mar 22, 2019 at 9:21 pm

pearl is a registered user.

Again, I say, huh? Oh, btw, the correct spelling is "privilege". :)


15 people like this
Posted by Semantics 101
a resident of University South
on Mar 22, 2019 at 9:48 pm

> I thought this was a discussion about college admission.

It was...but now it is drifting towards a petty debate over semantics.

The 'audacity' is directly related towards a superficial elitist mentality held by countless self-serving individuals of wealth & influence who consider themselves inherently 'privileged' (aka entitled) make their own set of rules as they go along...in this case, manipulating college entrance protocols for a number of superficial, elitist, privileged/entitled, self-serving brats.

The fruit doesn't fall far from the tree in most cases.


21 people like this
Posted by Semantics 101
a resident of University South
on Mar 22, 2019 at 9:54 pm

Lastly READ....'Editorial: The audacity of privilege'

It's an opinion piece. Not reportage.

Now that we've gotten that straightened out...


Like this comment
Posted by Semantics 101
a resident of University South
on Mar 22, 2019 at 9:58 pm

typo/correction: '...(aka entitled) [to] make their own set of rules'


18 people like this
Posted by R.Davis
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 23, 2019 at 8:29 am

R.Davis is a registered user.

How some of these faux college students (and parents) may have gotten caught via the wonders of Adobe Photoshop...

(1) Superimposing one's head in place of Tom Brady after he won the Super Bowl & then claiming to be an outstanding high school quarterback.

(2) Superimposing one's figure on Larry Ellison's Oracle Team USA racing yacht during the America's Cup race wearing a bikini.

(3) Superimposing one's image in a 1963 Freedom March photo wearing ripped designer jeans & Louboutin stilettos to illustrate their extracurricular activities & social awareness.

The possibilities are infinite given the software available.


1 person likes this
Posted by Ted Glasser.
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Mar 23, 2019 at 11:50 am

Excellent editorial


7 people like this
Posted by Only Suckers Fall For It
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Mar 24, 2019 at 3:14 pm

from the Palo Alto Weekly article:

"But the more important problem is how parents define success for their children."

The key is not to let ANYONE define success for you. Why bother?

On suckers fall for it.


Like this comment
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 24, 2019 at 7:19 pm

"For too many high-powered, hard-driving, accomplished parents the possibility that their children might not be accepted by a prestigious university threatens to shatter their dreams and expectations, denies them bragging rights and feels like a failure of parental responsibility."

Well, scratch those bragging rights. Bragging used to elicit admiring remarks about how smart your offspring must be and, most importantly, how brilliant you their progenitor must be. Bragging now gets parents only knowing smirks, like, "Sure, how much did you pay? Really? I got my second one into Biggername U for thousands less than that; you simply have to know the right people."


7 people like this
Posted by How To Get Into stanford For Free & Without Bribery
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 24, 2019 at 8:51 pm

A little known fact...if you work for Stanford University & your child meets their academic standards, they are accepted into the university tuition free.

And if they do not meet acceptance standards, Stanford will assist with their tuition at another college.

My daughter got accepted to Stanford & my son at Oregon State. Stanford covered their educations costs. It's an obscure employee benefit/perk that many are unaware of.

Job title/position is irrelevant.


4 people like this
Posted by pearl
a resident of another community
on Mar 24, 2019 at 9:03 pm

pearl is a registered user.

Back in the 1930s, it cost $500 per YEAR to attend Stanford!!!


1 person likes this
Posted by member1
a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2019 at 11:31 am

member1 is a registered user.

Paly kids should take tests out of the district so they will not have to deal with fire alarms pulled.


Like this comment
Posted by Stephen
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 26, 2019 at 7:41 am

@How To Get Into stanford For Free & Without Bribery:

Whoa there....
(1) The Stanford tuition benefit (which is great) is up to 1/2 of Stanford tuition to be used anywhere including Stanford. See Web Link . Apparently it used to be free at Stanford and nothing for anywhere else, a perk that even some public universities, e.g. UConn, have.

(2) Re admissions: Not all admissible children with parents who have Stanford affiliations are admitted. Certainly yes for children of the President, deans, and senior administrators. From what I have seen, other than the kids of these folks, admission to Stanford is less than a certainty, although the odds are likely better than for the general admission pool.


4 people like this
Posted by to How To Get Into stanford For Free & Without Bribery
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 26, 2019 at 2:58 pm

The Stanford Tuition Grant (50% of Stanford'd tuition for faculty or staff offspring) applies to any accredited US university. Position does matter: some (i.e. faculty, high admin) get this benefit upon starting work at Stanford, whereas most staff need to wait until they've worked for Stanford for 5 years. My impression is that applications of faculty offspring get an extra look by Stanford admissions, not so for that of staff offspring.


12 people like this
Posted by Anastacio
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2019 at 7:11 pm

> Not all admissible children with parents who have Stanford affiliations are admitted. Certainly yes for children of the President, deans, and senior administrators.
> Position does matter: some (i.e. faculty, high admin) get this benefit upon starting work at Stanford, whereas most staff need to wait until they've worked for Stanford for 5 years.

Typical Stanford white racism. I am a groundskeeper at Stanford & my daughter is getting straight A's in high school. So chances are she will be going to SJS while some privileged white administrator's kid gets accepted instead.

Nothing ever changes.


4 people like this
Posted by Emb
a resident of Portola Valley
on Mar 26, 2019 at 8:24 pm

I am a Stanford alum and currently teach at another similar university, just wanted to weigh in on "privileges" that faculty get.

The tuition benefit is common across many universities, including mine. It is not just Stanford. This is a well-known perk that is in part designed to keep faculty tied to the university. I think many universities have extended the same tuition perks to staff in recent decades out of pressure to be less elitist, more 'fair'.

In terms of admissions, though, I doubt there is much if any boost for faculty and administrators' kids, and certainly not any careful finessing according to the exact importance of the faculty member. I know multiple professors at my current institution whose kids (bright, nice, kids, with good grades and test scores, like so many other applicants) were denied admission. In fact I know only one colleague whose kid got in here, and that child was a computer genius now working at Google. People posting on this board don't have any inside information about how admissions works.

The only Stanford-connected kids who are definitely going to get a boost are the children of the board of trustees, because their parents are major donors or potential donors.

To Anastacio the groundskeeper - your daughter SHOULD apply to Stanford, exactly because she is NOT the usual applicant profile. "My dad is a groundskeeper" is exactly the kind of story that tugs at admissions officers hearts. And lower income, Pell grant, non-white (if those are true) - those attributes do provide a boost, because universities are trying to keep their admitted classes as diverse as possible.


10 people like this
Posted by pearl
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2019 at 8:28 pm

pearl is a registered user.

To: Anastacio

I understand your feelings. But your daughter will have a much richer college experience at SJS than she could ever get at Stanford. SJS will far better prepare her for life after she graduates because of the large number of students she will interact with at SJS who are from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds, which experience will much better prepare her for when she goes out into the world than could Stanford.

Ivy league schools are nowhere near what they are racked up to be, as author Frank Bruni so beautifully points out in his book, Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be - An Antidote To The College Admissions Mania. Your daughter is very fortunate to be going to SJS, trust me.

pearl


6 people like this
Posted by Emb
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2019 at 8:33 pm

and btw I am former Portola Valley, not resident anymore.

I have to say, when I was applying to colleges, my parents basically had no involvement, nor did any other parents at our high school. It's horrifying now to see how vested Bay Area (and other similar demographic) parents are in the process, and how much they pressure their kids. I can't imagine how those kids can function once they actually get to college. I wouldn't want to be the one teaching them.

Just fyi, our very best graduate students come from.... large state schools.


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 26, 2019 at 9:46 pm

If you win a new car, then Uncle Sam and Gavin Newsom come after you for income taxes. If you win a Stanford education, why no income tax on the waived tuition? If you pay out of pocket, why is tuition not deductible? If your degree is a salable asset, why no property tax on its value? Sorry, rhetorical questions but suddenly taxes are on my mind right now.


Like this comment
Posted by to musical
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 26, 2019 at 11:02 pm

If Stanford pays the 50% tuition directly to the college, bypassing the parent/faculty member, In some situations, the benefit must be paid to the faculty member, who then uses the grant to pay the college; in this case the grant IS taxable. Similarly, financial aid packages (which are not directly given to the student, but simply deducted from the total amount owed) are not taxable.


4 people like this
Posted by to musical
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 26, 2019 at 11:04 pm

Meant to write: If Stanford pays the 50% tuition directly to the college, bypassing the parent/faculty member, the grant is not taxable, In some situations, the benefit must be paid to the faculty member, who then uses the grant to pay the college; in this case the grant IS taxable. Similarly, financial aid packages (which are not directly given to the student, but simply deducted from the total amount owed) are not taxable.


2 people like this
Posted by State Schools
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 27, 2019 at 3:42 pm

@Emb,

You mention your "very best" graduate students coming from large state schools, and one major factor might be that students at state schools have to do more of the actual work. State schools can't afford to tutor and closely mentor and advise the majority of students, and it's possible that those students are just more used to getting the work done on their own. When you do the work each step of the way, you own it and what you've learned is yours.


2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 27, 2019 at 7:03 pm

@State Schools

You are objectively totally right, but state schools have a fundamental shortcoming: They confer zero to none parental bragging advantages. Student success in life is OK, but parental prestige trumps.


Like this comment
Posted by Insane
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 27, 2019 at 9:02 pm

@Curmudgeon, perhaps in your circle. Fortunately not in ours. We’ve always told our kids their worth is in their merit, they will go to whatever college they’re accepted and that we can afford. We’re not from this area, but it’s certainly been interesting realizing/learning how many here rely on their “legacy”. My kids so far are quite well grounded and hopefully ready to hit the “real world”......so many others not so much.


Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 29, 2019 at 1:22 am

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

Better than bribing people to get into an existing college, start your own school like Tim Draper of Draper University.


Like this comment
Posted by Rutman
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 29, 2019 at 6:13 am

Who ?


2 people like this
Posted by pearl
a resident of another community
on Mar 29, 2019 at 7:02 am

pearl is a registered user.

Tim Draper, Draper University
Web Link


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