We need a new spinoff of “The Sopranos.”
Will someone please make this happen? It will feature spoiled daughter Meadow Soprano as part of a morally corrupt machine that encourages insipid rich kids — you know, the ones with access to everything and magical resources who can’t seem to make anything of themselves — to cheat and lie their way into fancy colleges. “Consultants” help their parents funnel mountains of cash through a (tax deductible) fake charity so they can get the right “brand” of education.
Please, can it be called “RICO Goes to Yale”?
And can I make sure that you know I’m not making this up?
I’ve been a college professor for 9,764 years, which explains why I’ve been following this latest crime story involving college admissions across the country.
The FBI, with uncharacteristic flippancy, refers to this case as “Operation Varsity Blues.” A racketeer named William “Rick” Singer was, according to various reports, the head of a fake-SAT-score, cheat-and-beat the system college-entrance hustle. We’re talking big-time tax crime, complete with hoax charities, mail fraud, paying-people-to-take-the-test-for-other-people arrangements, photo-shopping heads of non-athletes onto stock photos of athletes and the pure ugliness of lying-even-when-you-don’t-have-to.
From all accounts, Singer had no qualifications whatsoever, apart from being a con artist and a star-struck poser who bragged about his clients. On his website, Singer provides lists of people, he claims, who hired him. One presumes they are parents, because one presumes heads of major corporations or television personalities are not trying to get back into college.
As I’d never heard of Singer, I spent several hours reading his “writings” — a term I use lightly — outlining what he shilled as his inspirational theories of education, including this one: “As a parent, ask what would you be willing to do to give your child a shot at one of these top schools?”
Singer’s not recommending helicopter parenting; he’s recommending Gulfstream parenting. We’re talking way in excess of millions of dollars in pay-offs just to get into a college. Who knows who they’ll have to pay off to graduate?
Remember when devoted mom Carmela Soprano, who believes her eldest child Meadow is the smartest girl in the world (“Her paper on the melting ice cap, it made me cry, it was so poignant”) as well the most qualified candidate for admission to any college (“She would be a wonderful addition to the Georgetown campus”) threatens an acquaintance who is initially unwilling to provide Meadow with a letter of recommendation? Remember when that seemed funny?
Jodi Rosenshein Atkin is a professional educational consultant. She represents the best of what those who work in the field have to offer. Her take on the scandal: “I’m bound by ethical guidelines of national professional organizations. I won’t create fictional resumes, take bribes or guarantee admission to specific schools in order to elicit envy and awe at cocktail parties. My focus is to identify places where students can thrive academically and socially.”
I also asked Hara Marano, author of “A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting,” to offer her perspective: “Bypassing even the pretense of the work ethic and ignoring requirements entirely,” Singer’s clients encouraged their kids to cheat. They didn’t push their children but instead paid for them to have the pathway to opportunities paved for them.
Marano, also editor-at-large of Psychology Today, complicates her position by reminding us that “What all parents share is anxiety about the future of their kids in a land where opportunity appears to be dwindling.”
The diminishing middle class is one reason that so-called elite schools keep tightening their grip on the imaginative power of status-hungry parents and children.
Longtime former head coach of Yale’s women’s soccer, Rudolph Meredith, is charged with accepting a $400,000 bribe to say he’d given a place on the team to a student who had never played soccer competitively so that she’d be cataloged by Yale as a “recruited athlete,” thereby allotting her an edge over other more legitimately qualified candidates. Officials said the student’s parents then paid an additional $1.2 million to Singer in bribes after the fact.
This is when you start to realize that The Sopranos were amateurs.
The deck was always stacked, we know that, but parents have gone way beyond contributing to an arts center, or even building a dormitory. Now, they’re constructing entirely new children, complete with athletes’ bodies and scholars’ brains.
Gina Barreca is a board of trustees distinguished professor of English literature at University of Connecticut and the author of 10 books. She can be reached at www.ginabarreca.com.