Gavel Gamut

By Jim Redwine

(Week of 25 March 2019)


For many years many of America’s universities have gladly accepted contributions from wealthy donors whose children or grandchildren then receive special consideration for admission to those schools. The mock shock of the academic world over the current debacle concerning bribery and fraud in the admission process for colleges such as Yale, Texas, U.S.C., Stanford, Georgetown, Wake Forest and others rings hollow when the name on a building at a school is the same name as an under qualified admitted freshman.

When colleges sell their academic or athletic souls in return for the naming rights to stadiums, gymnasiums, libraries, classroom buildings and even practice fields, they have already set the bar at a level where money, not academic or athletic achievement or potential, is the criterion for admission. That does not mean there is anything anti-American about the donors or schools who engage in such practices. After all, there is little in our world that survives without transfusions of money. 

It is not those under qualified applicants who are let in that is the problem but those the ones let in keep out. No, it is not the generalized practice of giving preference to those the donors promote that should give us pause. Really, how many can there be who can afford to buy their family’s way into the “Elite” schools? Therefore, what universities should do is simply acknowledge the practice we all know has existed for years and continue to admit these not quite so bright or athletic applicants in spite of their shortcomings. They will probably fail in a year or two anyway.

However, after accepting the non-merit applicants, then the colleges should expand the freshman classes or the sports teams by the number of legacy kids admitted so that truly qualified students and athletes are not shut out. There is no great danger a genius or Heisman Trophy winner will be displaced by a ne’er-do-well as the true genius or excellent athlete will rise while the ne’er-do-well fades away. Of course, occasionally a legacy kid might later become a CEO or maybe even President, but he or she will most likely be insulated from running things into the ground by his or her advisors who have risen through merit.

Gentle Reader, you might sense a certain cynicism in this approach. But I ask you to consider this most recent affront to our academic and athletic sensibilities has so far resulted in fewer than 100 charges and none of those have been against students or universities. Whom are we kidding? America is not going to change from a capitalistic society so why pretend. Let’s publicly fess up to the realities on the ground and deal with them by making sure our freshman classes can accommodate both the few non-merit super wealthy applicants and those who truly merit admission.

Of course, the universities need to set the sales price for non-merit admission high enough that only truly wealthy families can participate. After all, we would not want merely middle class parents to put second mortgages on their homes so their children can attend those colleges willing to participate in this scheme. Such a practice might result in many more Americans getting the opportunity to rub shoulders with the “Elite”. That would dilute the pool of graduates and make the value of their degrees much the same as those of other schools where degrees are not negotiable.

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