‘The sys­tem is rigged’ feels real when the rich cheat to get their kids into top col­leges

The Buffalo News - - VIEWPOINTS - By Steve Lopez

LOS AN­GE­LES – We’ve been hear­ing about it for years. The sys­tem is rigged. Don­ald Trump went at it from the right, Bernie San­ders from the left. They tar­geted dif­fer­ent vil­lains but iden­ti­fied the same ca­su­alty.

The lit­tle guy. The one who kept fall­ing fur­ther be­hind while a se­lect few pros­pered.

And now we can see it as clearly as the writ­ing on the in­dict­ment.

The col­lege en­trance cheat­ing scan­dal un­veiled by fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors on Tues­day is a story for our time, a per­fect snap­shot of fatu­ous Amer­i­can greed and sav­age in­equal­ity.

The par­ents charged in the scheme are rich and con­nected, and their chil­dren had all the advantages that come with such priv­i­lege.

But, if pros­e­cu­tors are right, that wasn’t enough.

So they cheated to get their kids into some of the most elite univer­si­ties in the United States, ac­cord­ing to the in­dict­ment.

Some par­ents al­legedly paid hun­dreds of thou­sands to put in the fix on SAT scores, or to bribe school of­fi­cials, while oth­ers paid mil­lions.

“We’re talk­ing about de­cep­tion and fraud _ fake test scores, fake cre­den­tials, fake pho­to­graphs, bribed col­lege of­fi­cials,” An­drew Lelling, U.S. at­tor­ney for the District of Mas­sachusetts, said at a news con­fer­ence Tues­day. As he spoke, some of the four dozen ac­cused perps were still be­ing rounded up and pa­raded into court­rooms in a na­tional spec­ta­cle of moral de­prav­ity.

And Cal­i­for­nia _ na­tional cap­i­tal of both wealth and poverty _ played a cen­tral role in the scan­dal.

Heads have al­ready rolled at UCLA and USC.

Ac­tress Lori Laugh­lin and her hus­band, cloth­ing brand cre­ator Mos­simo Gian­nulli, are ac­cused of pay­ing $500,000 in bribes to have their two daugh­ters des­ig­nated as re­cruits for the USC crew team.

One of the two daugh­ters bab­bles in a YouTube video about her aca­demic in­ter­ests. “I don’t re­ally care about school,” she says, adding that she does want to par­tic­i­pate in game days and par­ty­ing. She later apol­o­gized for her re­marks.

Ac­tress Felic­ity Huff­man is ac­cused of dis­guis­ing a $15,000 char­ity pay­ment in a bribery scheme with the goal of up­ping her daugh­ter’s SAT score. Huff­man is the wife of ac­tor Wil­liam H. Macy, star of a TV drama in which a main char­ac­ter was busted for tak­ing SAT tests for other students. The show is called “Shame­less,” and what can I add to that?

Rick Singer, the New­port Beach owner of a col­lege ad­mis­sions com­pany, was de­scribed by pros­e­cu­tors as the mas­ter­mind of the scheme, which was de­signed to get students into UCLA, USC, Stan­ford, Yale and Ge­orge­town, re­gard­less of whether they’d earned the shot and with­out con­sid­er­a­tion of those whose ad­mis­sion dreams were snuffed to make room.

You can’t re­ally blame the kids for what the grown-ups are ac­cused of do­ing, and in some cases, it’s not clear the kids even knew what was hap­pen­ing.

But if the charges are true, what kind of world do these peo­ple live in? I can’t think of a more cor­ro­sive parental les­son than to teach kids that if they can’t quite make the cut, it doesn’t mat­ter, no need to work a lit­tle harder, not if you have money.

If the fancy pri­vate schools and SAT prep cour­ses can’t do the trick, the proudly en­ti­tled know how to win the game any­way.

And by the way, enough al­ready with the idea that in a coun­try with thou­sands of univer­si­ties, only a hand­ful are worth go­ing to.

Par­ents and kids fo­cused only on ex­clu­sive schools are wast­ing time, money and en­ergy on the paper chase, and sub­ject­ing chil­dren to ridicu­lous levels of pres­sure and peer judg­ment. And for what? If these peo­ple think their kids need a leg up, I’d be happy to give them a tour of Telfair Ele­men­tary School in Pa­coima, where nearly a quar­ter of the chil­dren don’t have sta­ble hous­ing.

Or, for a dif­fer­ent view of what col­lege is all about, they could pay a visit to my Cal State L.A. class, where most of the students come out of un­der­funded pub­lic schools. The bribes and fees al­legedly paid by a sin­gle one of the cor­rupt par­ents would more than cover a year’s tuition for the whole class.

On Mon­day night, I asked one of my students, Chris­tian Mejia, to read his paper aloud. The as­sign­ment was to write about life in L.A., and he’d writ­ten a gem of an es­say about grow­ing up sur­rounded by vi­o­lence.

Mejia wrote that his block was the only one in his neigh­bor­hood on which you didn’t have to worry about gangs or shoot­ings or graf­fiti. An el­derly gent named Glen lived on the street and once he got to know you, he handed you free snacks _ candy, ice cream, chips _ as of­ten as you cared to re­turn. Even ri­val gang mem­bers dropped their dukes and stood to­gether at the gate, await­ing snacks.

Mejia says he re­mains in­spired years af­ter Glen’s death by his self­less ges­ture, which brought a mea­sure of peace to a trou­bled neigh­bor­hood.

My students may not be able to buy their way into fancy col­leges, but they ar­rive with a set of pow­er­ful tools. They’re scrappy, hun­gry and in­ti­mately fa­mil­iar with the skills of sur­vival, and they’re driven by a de­sire to make their par­ents proud with hard work. Many of them take more than four years to get their de­grees be­cause they’re work­ing a job or two or tak­ing care of their el­ders or their youngers.

They have no mom­mies and dad­dies who can fix SAT scores. Where they come from, on the other side of the rigged world, there are no short­cuts.

And they’re bet­ter for it.

Tri­bune News Ser­vice

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