The administrations of the universities and colleges caught up in the Operation Varsity Blues investigation may have escaped federal charges, but few are absolving them of any responsibility. Those schools that got gamed by William “Rick” Singer, the wealthy, and the Hollywood elite have begun mounting a public-relations campaign aimed at clearing their names. Firings have already been announced, expulsions are being discussed, and damage-control experts are working overtime:
Georgetown, Stanford, Yale and other universities raced Wednesday to contain damage from scandalous allegations that athletic coaches took bribes as part of a wide-ranging scheme to let the unqualified children of wealthy families gain entry to prestigious schools.
Outrage mounted among parents and students who said the scheme showed those who play by the rules are losing precious seats at elite universities to unscrupulous families with money and clout.
In response, Georgetown disclosed that it tightened vetting of athletic credentials after the university in late 2017 discovered “irregularities” in the recruiting practices of tennis coach Gordon Ernst. The coach, who left the university last year, was among dozens of people charged with crimes in the college admissions cheating and bribery conspiracy revealed Tuesday by federal prosecutors in Boston.
Ernst is hardly alone on the unemployment line. The University of Texas fired men’s tennis coach Michael Center after he got charged in the RICO scheme. Stanford fired its sailing coach who was also named in the indictments. Of all the schools involved, the University of Southern California has the most work ahead for its HR and PR departments, firing two people and dealing with having two others connected to the school involved in the scandal:
Others who were still with their schools Tuesday and who were quickly fired after being charged with racketeering conspiracy included: John Vandemoer, Stanford’s sailing coach; Jovan Vavic, USC’s water polo coach; and Donna Heinel, USC’s senior associate athletic director. Two more people associated with USC, former Trojans women’s soccer coach Ali Khosroshahin and former women’s soccer assistant Laura Janke, were also charged.
USC seems to have been particularly susceptible to corruption, or at least a popular destination for wealthy parents. Los Angeles Times sportswriter Dylan Hernandez put it bluntly — USC’s athletic department isn’t merely incompetent. It’s corrupt:
If only USC’s humiliations could still be the result of simple incompetence, as was the case with the banishment of the Song Girls from home basketball games to the brief whatever-that-was with assistant football coach Kliff Kingsbury.
Trojan Nation learned Tuesday that USC’s athletic department was something worse than comically inept. It was also brazenly corrupt. …
What distinguished USC was the number of individuals involved in the scam, which made the misconduct appear systemic. So it was particularly laughable when the university released a statement that included the claim that, “USC has not been accused of any wrongdoing.”
If a high-level administrator and a legendary water polo coach aren’t USC, who or what is?
Exactly. It’s impossible to separate the institutions from the scandal, because it’s the institutions that made the scandal possible. The DoJ might not have been able to make a legal case for corruption against the schools themselves, but morally speaking, they’re rotten to the core. These institutions of higher learning have spent the last several decades promulgating complicated and specious theories about inherited guilt and privilege on the basis of immutable characteristics such as gender and ethnicity, all the while fueling themselves on the real privilege of wealth and celebrity.
If that’s not a blatant corruption of their core mission to educate, then nothing can be called corrupt.
Another tool that schools plan to use in distancing themselves from the scandal is expulsions. Even there, though, it’s unclear whether that will apply to all of those who were part of it, at least at USC:
With Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli embroiled in legal troubles, their daughters’ future at USC is uncertain.
Loughlin was taken into FBI custody on Wednesday as her and her husband have been charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services fraud in an alleged college admissions scam involving dozens of people. Now, the University of Southern California — where the couple’s daughters, 20-year-old Isabella Rose and 19-year-old Olivia Jade, go to school — tells ET that they are reviewing all cases of admitted students that may be connected to the scandal.
“We are going to conduct a case-by-case review for current students and graduates that may be connected to the scheme alleged by the government,” a USC Media Relations rep tells ET. “We will make informed, appropriate decisions once those reviews have been completed. Some of these individuals may have been minors at the time of their application process.”
As for prospective students potentially involved in the case who have not yet started college at USC, the rep says, “Applicants in the current admissions cycle who are connected to the scheme alleged by the government will be denied admission to USC.”
So those who cheated to get in already might skate even with the fraud? It’s tough to understand why the two Giannullis would want to stick around anyway. They might get some sympathy from their friends, but others at USC might resent their presence on campus — especially Olivia Jade, who had been turning her college experience into a lucrative “YouTube Influencer” career. The school would likely be doing them a favor by “encouraging” a little more adventure in their college careers. They’d be doing themselves a bigger favor.
Universities and colleges want to put an end to the conversation over this corruption, and failing that, hope to limit the scope of it to malignant parents and greedy outsiders. All of the expulsions in the world won’t put a lid on the corruption in higher education now, however.