The College-Admissions Scandal and the Banality of Scamming

Naomi Fry:

For years, it’s been known that the college-admissions process itself is a kind of scam. In his book “The Price of Admission,” from 2006, the investigative journalist Daniel Golden reveals the ways in which wealthy parents secure their children’s acceptance to prestigious colleges through hefty donations. In one example, he describes how Charles and Seryl Kushner used a two-and-a-half-million-dollar donation to obtain an admission to Harvard for their son, Jared, who is now the President’s son-in-law. (The Kushners have denied that the gift was related to Jared’s admission.) In an interview with my colleague Isaac Chotiner, on Tuesday, Golden noted that, although participating in allegedly criminal activities, the parents involved in the current scandal were simply pushing an already corrupt system to its logical conclusion. There is no doubt of the continuity between the two types of admission schemes, and that the technically legal one isn’t any more ethical than the other.

This week’s exposure of the college-admissions scam is significant exactly because, in its trite ordinariness, it makes granular and concrete what is usually abstract and difficult to pin down. The parents who responded “I love it” to Singer’s criminal propositions reminded me, viscerally, of Donald Trump, Jr.,’s breezy e-mail reply when, in 2016, he was told of a Russian source’s ability to share dirt on Hillary Clinton: “If it’s what you say I love it.” When the e-mail was revealed, in 2017, I felt a similar satisfaction. In both cases, casual corruption, usually obscured by several layers of secrecy and legal trickery, was finally laid bare. The people involved were so self-satisfied and secure in their power that they greeted unethical, perhaps felonious proposals with complete nonchalance.