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PACEspectives: Operation Varsity Blues

News Story

This month, our Pace faculty share their thoughts on the college admission cheating scandal that has captivated the nation; and has raised many vital questions about the college admission process.

Arguably one of the biggest scandals of the decade emerged out of nowhere last month—through “Operation Varsity Blues,” United States federal prosecutors disclosed a scheme to influence college admission and select Universities through alleged bribery and fraud. Recently, Pace President Marvin Krislov weighed in with his thoughts on NY1. For this month’s PACEspectives, several professors discuss their views on this highly publicized, and ongoing, news story. 

 

Brian R. Evans, EdD

Professor, Mathematics Education
Associate Dean, Academic Affairs
School of Education

The most troubling aspect surrounding the recent college admissions cheating scandal is the burden it places on the reduced opportunities for students who were denied admission, and who would have benefited the most by acceptance to select colleges and universities. Students who come from families of lower incomes are the ones who are most disadvantaged by those who benefited from the scandal. I hope that the recent scandal opens up the national conversation on equity and opportunity on who is admitted and the processes followed.


Robina Schepp 

Vice President for Enrollment Management
Enrollment 

I often feel grateful to work at Pace, and after reading about the recent college admissions scandal, I had another chance to reflect on why this is so. I am grateful for Pace’s diversity and the wonderful learning environment that exists because of it. But it is Pace’s economic diversity that I find myself valuing more than ever in light of this scandal.

Selective colleges and universities are not known to be very diverse places. And they really struggle with economic diversity.

It’s unfortunate that the parents who have been implicated in the admissions scandal do not have an appreciation for what can be learned when one studies side-by-side with students who have to work and take loans to pay for their education. Our students have “a lot of skin in the game.” I find their work ethic inspiring. It makes me want to be better at my work.

 

Pace’s recognition as the number one private school in the country for economic mobility is just one example of what we all know to be true; the right work ethic and preparation will often eclipse privilege. AND we see these outcomes all the time.


Bennett L. Gershman, JD
Professor of Law
Elisabeth Haub School of Law

The college admissions scandal broke the same week I was teaching the subject of affirmative action in higher education in my constitutional law class. The juxtaposition of these issues was striking. Some Supreme Court Justices have supported college admissions programs that take an applicant’s race into account, viewing this policy as a “benign” form of discrimination to try to ameliorate US society’s historically “invidious” discrimination through segregated public schools, denial of access to African-Americans in places of public accommodation, and denying them jobs, licenses, and government contracts because of their race. Some Justices, notably Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, have viewed race-based admissions programs as un-American and that stamp minorities with a badge of inferiority. But don’t colleges typically admit intellectually underqualified athletes, children of alumni, and children whose parents donate millions of dollars to the college? The recent admissions scandal merely describes this abuse more dramatically. Which is preferable? Supporting an admission program that considers the race of a highly qualified student, or an admission program that rewards the wealthy, the well-connected, and the athletically gifted, but sometimes intellectually challenged athlete?


Bruce Bachenheimer
Clinical Professor of Management
Executive Director, Entrepreneurship Lab
Lubin School of Business 

"Live by the sword, die by the sword"

The "bulldozer parents" who seek to "clear a path" for their child to gain admission to a top ranked college, live by the rankings. Prospective students who define themselves by the numerical rank of the college they attend, live by the rankings. Colleges whose mission is simply to advance in the rankings, live by the rankings. And all may suffer tremendously because of college rankings.

So why live by the rankings? They offer a simplistic sorting mechanism and play on human nature. Why perpetuate them? Money. Mainly for the publishers of these rankings, but also for the institutions that rely on them as THE source for new student enrollment (i.e. tuition dollars).

What’s a better alternative? Provide broad ratings around topics that could help students better select the college that’s the best FIT for them and rank colleges based on the VALUE they actually add. In other words: rank them on "outputs" (how well they prepare graduates) rather than "inputs" (high school grades, SAT scores, acceptance rates). Consider the incentives, having colleges select students based on who will help them advance in the rankings versus earning a reputation by preparing successful graduates.

Some colleges have successfully rejected the "games" associated with admissions and privilege. MIT does not offer athletic scholarships, have legacy admissions, include Latin honors upon graduation, or award honorary degrees. The institute is the epitome of a meritocracy. Others have excelled at adding value. Pace was ranked the best private university in the country for upward economic mobility of students. We are the embodiment of Opportunitas!