Under the table

Texas universities review admission processes in wake of bribery scandal

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has ordered that all Texas public universities review their application processes after officials at the University of Texas at Austin allegedly accepted bribes from applicants’ families to get students admitted. UT is one of the colleges accused in a nation-wide bribery scandal.
Senior Erika Voight will be attending UT in the fall studying political science. She said that while the admission scandal did not affect her desire to go to the school, it did change her view of the institution.

“It’s kind of disappointing because I think so highly of the place,” Voight said. “I have so many people who hype it up so much and then when you see things like this happen, it just gets a little frustrating because it lowers my view of that school.”

Thirty-three parents, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, have been charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud for allegedly making “donations” to a fake non-profit foundation called the Key Foundation. Loughlin allegedly paid $500,000 to get her daughter, Olivia Jade Giannulli, accepted into the University of Southern California as a crew team recruit. According to a police investigation, the non-profit would distribute these funds to various universities. Many of these “donations” were discovered by investigators after the parents attempted to write the “donations” off on their tax returns.

The Key Foundation’s CEO, William Singer, allegedly distributed a total of $25 million to various universities including USC, Stanford, Georgetown, the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of San Diego, UT, Wake Forest and Yale.

According to Voight, the prestige surrounding certain colleges shouldn’t be valued more than doing what’s right, and the fact that families are bribing their students into certain colleges just for the status negatively reflects society’s values.

“I think that says a lot more about society than I want it to say,” Voight said. “We value money more than anything, and if you have money, you can get into these schools and this just proves it.”
Many students and parents believe that those convicted have been stealing admissions spots from other, more qualified, students.

“They’re taking spots from people who deserve it,” junior Madalyn Beischer said. “That’s really disappointing to show that money is valued over who you are as a person.”

They’re taking spots from people who deserve it. That’s really disappointing to show that money is valued over who you are as a person.”

— Madalyn Beischer, 11

“They need to be convicted and be made an example of,” Cooke said. “I think they need to face the consequences…hopefully the courts will do something.”

The majority of the bribes were given to coaches to admit students as athletes for smaller sports such as tennis or female rowing, despite inadequate grades and test scores. Students’ faces were photoshopped into pictures of the sport. All of the schools that received the bribes compete at a Division-I level, the highest level for college sports.

“These high profile universities like USC or UCLA, they really do need to look in and check it out because a lot of their coaches were involved,” Economics teacher Phil Cooke said.

After the foundation’s records were released, a $500,000 bribe was listed to the UT athletics department. UT’s head tennis coach, Michael Center, allegedly took a $100,000 bribe to get a California student into the school as a tennis recruit in 2015. While the student was placed on the tennis team, they never attended practices or games. The student is still enrolled at UT, but Center has been fired.

Another element of the scandal included parents bribing SAT or ACT proctors to correct their children’s answers after the test was finished. Actress Felicity Huffman is accused of paying $15,000 for her daughter’s test to be altered. Allegedly, parents also bribed test officials to allow the students to take the exams alone, citing “disabilities” as the reasoning.

“A lot of these universities are doing things under the table and they’ve been doing it forever,” Cooke said. “That just shows you how influential money is and celebrity status is.”

Some UT insiders have tried to stop this trend over the years. Wallace Hall Jr. served a six-year term on the UT Board of Regents. Throughout this time he challenged the admissions process, alleging that children and friends of state politicians and the board of regents were being given special consideration in the admissions process.

Kroll International, a private investigation company, was also hired by the UT System to investigate these claims and the admissions process. In 2015, they found that 73 students from 2009 to 2014 had been admitted to UT despite poor grades and test scores.

“I’m sure that things like that happen all the time,” Beischer said. “People who don’t do very well [in high school] get into amazing schools, not because of who they are and how hard they work but because of who they know and who their parents know.”

UT is at the top of Beischer’s list of colleges to apply to next year, and she said that while UT’s involvement in the scandal was unexpected, the idea that people would bribe their way into better colleges, even on such a large scale, is common.

A USA Today and Suffolk University poll discovered that less than one in five Americans believe that the college admissions process is “generally fair,” and about 67 percent of the respondents believe that the admissions process “favors the rich and powerful.”

“People with more money get into better places, but for it to be so public that it was a big wake up call for admissions,” Beischer said.

After Abbott’s order, the U.S. Department of Education informed UT that they have begun a “preliminary investigation” on the admissions process to determine whether any federal financial aid regulations were violated. In late March, UT Austin tweeted that the campus was “cooperating with federal investigators and is concerned by the allegations raised.” They also stated that they “believe this was an isolated incident in 2015 that involved one coach and no other university employees or officers.”

Center pled guilty in early April and could get at least a year in prision.

According to the New York Times, prosecutors announced on April 8 that 13 parents, including Huffman, and one coach would plea guilty to their charges after accepting a plead bargain. On April 9, parents that refused plea deals were met with indictments and new charges. Loughlin and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, were additionally charged with money laundering. On April 15, Loughlin plead not guilty to her additional charges of money laundering. Giannulli has also not plead any guilt for his charges.