Schooled Reporting on education

Higher ed exposed

Education | Students sue colleges for unfair admissions process after bribe scandal exposed
by Laura Edghill
Posted 3/20/19, 04:04 pm

In the wake of a college admissions bribery scandal, several students last week sued eight elite universities for passing them over to admit the less-qualified children of the wealthy. But legal experts say justice could be hard to come by for students who feel schools treated them unfairly because they weren’t rich.

“It’s tough to see these [cases] succeeding,” said Kyle McEntee, an attorney and public policy expert who works for reforms in law school education. He also stated the lawsuit “reeks of opportunism.”

The reckoning for the rich and famous parents accused of bribery and corruption began last week when authorities charged at least nine college athletic coaches and 33 parents with paying hundreds of thousands of dollars, some as much as $6.5 million, to guarantee their children’s admission into top schools like Yale and Georgetown. The scam’s ringleader, William “Rick” Singer, paid coaches and testing companies to make the students look like star athletes or young geniuses. The implicated parents include actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, both of whom were arrested and released on bail last week.

Students who didn’t get into the schools of their choice want the colleges to face consequences, too, for admitting students from wealthy families under false pretenses. But producing enough evidence to tie the schools to the fraud will be difficult, Louisiana State University law professor Joy Blanchard said: “They won’t be able to prove that the universities were behind some grand scheme.”

Students Tyler Bendis and Nicholas Johnson, along with two of their parents, filed suit Friday in San Jose, Calif. Both Bendis and Johnson say they had competitive high school grades, SAT scores, and athletic experience. Stanford, UCLA, and the University of San Diego denied Bendis admission, and Johnson failed to make the cut at Stanford, Yale, and the University of Texas at Austin. All five of those universities are named in the lawsuit, as well as Georgetown, the University of Southern California, and Wake Forest.

Bendis and Johnson ended up enrolling in other schools—Bendis at an Orange County, Calif., community college and Johnson at Rutgers. They said the universities that rejected them promised a fair admissions process but the cheating scandal revealed an abjectly unfair system. The lawsuit claims to represent every one of the thousands of prospective students who applied between 2012 and 2018, paid an application fee, and were rejected by one of the named schools.

The return of the $50–$100 application fees is probably all anyone will recover, said David Levine, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of Law. “The big money is unlikely to be there,” he said.

Others are suing, too. Last Wednesday, former Oakland Unified School District teacher Jennifer Toy and her son Joshua filed a $500 billion lawsuit against 32 parents, Singer, and nine coaches and test administrators. Toy said the massive cheating scandal squeezed out students like her son, who had a 4.2 GPA.

“I always taught my students that study and hard work was the best way to get into a good college,” Toy said in court filings. “I always taught my students to be honest and forthright and that cheating was wrong.”

Facebook/Sarah Lawrence College Facebook/Sarah Lawrence College The Sarah Lawrence College campus

Occupy admin

A student activist group at Sarah Lawrence College recently staged a 24-hour occupation of the campus’ main administration building and released a long list of demands of the prominent liberal arts school. Representing minority students and calling itself “The Diaspora Coalition,” the group presented a wide range of requests, including free winter housing, free meals for students, and free laundry detergent plus softener in campus laundry facilities. Sarah Lawrence regularly tops lists of the most expensive colleges in the country and boasts students from the ranks of the wealthy and privileged.

The list also demands a public apology from and a tenure review of conservative-leaning politics professor Samuel Abrams, saying his November 2018 New York Times op-ed column threatened the “safety and wellbeing of marginalized people within the Sarah Lawrence community.” Abrams’ column detailed the overwhelming liberal bias in higher education leadership, citing his own study of roughly 900 administrators responsible for the quality and character of student experiences on campus.

“Their ideological imbalance, coupled with their agenda-setting power, threatens the free and open exchange of ideas, which is precisely what we need to protect in higher education in these politically polarized times,” Abrams wrote.

Members of The Diaspora Coalition took issue with Abrams’ contention that a free and open exchange of ideas needs to be protected, instead arguing that they and their marginalized allies need to be protected, not ideas. —L.E.

Associated Press/Photo by Adam Beam Associated Press/Photo by Adam Beam Teachers protest at the Kentucky Capitol on March 13 in Frankfort.

Not-so-sick days

Kentucky’s education commissioner is demanding the names of teachers who called in sick during a recent statewide “sick-out” protest. The heightened demand for substitute teachers left at least 10 Kentucky school districts with no choice but to cancel school on multiple days over the past three weeks.

Many teachers used the sick days to travel to their state’s Capitol in protest of two education bills moving through the state legislature. The bills in question dealt with changes to the administration of teachers’ pension funds and proposed allowing dollar-for-dollar tax credits for donations to qualifying scholarship programs. Lawmakers ended up shelving both measures.

Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis sent letters to the 10 districts that canceled school, asking not only for the names of teachers who used sick days on the closure dates but copies of doctors’ notes, as well.

“The Kentucky Department of Education takes the closing of schools very seriously,” Lewis said. “While it is important that administrators, teachers, and students make their voices heard about issues related to public education policy, advocacy should under no circumstances be putting a stop to learning for entire communities.”

The majority of states, including Kentucky, prohibit teacher strikes. Coordinated absences like sick-outs are technically legal but may provoke disciplinary action in individual districts. The Kentucky Education Association, which represents 43,000 educators, maintains the teachers were exercising their First Amendment rights. The Education Department has not said what it plans to do with the information. —L.E.

Associated Press/Photo by J Pat Carter (file) Associated Press/Photo by J Pat Carter (file) University of Miami professor Francisca Aquilo-Mora teaching a Spanish class in Coral Gables, Fla., in September 2013.

Losing language

Enrollment in foreign language classes decreased by 9.2 percent between 2013 and 2016, according to a new study by the Modern Language Association (MLA). The decline seems at odds with modern society’s emphasis on global connectedness and the business world’s preference for collaboration across time zones and international borders. The enrollment drop corresponds to the discontinuation of more than 650 foreign language programs in the same three-year period, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported.

The net loss of so many programs during that three-year period was the second-largest recorded in the 60 years the MLA has been tracking the data. The previous period surveyed, 2009 to 2013, found the loss of only a single program. The report’s authors cited the Great Recession as a likely culprit. Overall declines in college enrollment might have led institutions to scrutinize their return on investment for courses with dwindling registration. A surge of interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) degrees might also have contributed to the decline.

Spanish, French, and American Sign Language continue to have the three highest enrollments, but interest in Japanese and Korean is on the rise. Japanese booted Italian out of fifth place, and Korean jumped over Ancient Greek, Biblical Hebrew, and Portuguese, to assume 11th position. The MLA will conduct its next survey in 2020. —L.E.

Laura Edghill

Laura is a freelance writer, church communications director, and public school board member living in Clinton Township, Mich., with her engineer husband and three sons. She is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Follow Laura on Twitter @LTEdghill.

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  • Laura W
    Posted: Fri, 03/22/2019 09:53 pm

    Since when do First Ammendment rights mean you can leave your employer hanging to go protest, and expect not to face consequences for it? There is such a thing as civil disobedience and all that, but the reason it's impactful is that it doesn't come free.

  • BobK
    Posted: Sat, 03/23/2019 10:02 pm

    I wonder how much of the lowered enrollment in language classes comes from the increased use of online language apps?  How much have language programs like Duolingo grown during the same period?