College admissions scandal proof that there are some things money can’t buy

Published 8:00 pm Thursday, March 28, 2019

In a massive college admission scandal the FBI is calling Operation Varsity Blues, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts has released documents revealing that some rich and influential parents have paid huge sums of money — huge to you and me but evidently chicken-feed to them — to get their children into elite schools, allegedly as much as $6 million. In lay terms, we call them bribes.

So far, 50 of the rich-and-famous, aided and abetted by college coaches and crooked standardized test administrators reportedly took part in the scheme to cheat on SAT and ACT tests and to admit students as faux-athletes to at least eight universities named in the federal indictment and criminal complaint, including Yale, Stanford, USC, UCLA and Wake Forest, among others.

Coaches at these universities are accused of taking bribes and admitting the rich kids as athletes in sports for which they had no skills — rowing, tennis, volleyball, men and women’s soccer and water polo.

Actress Lori Loughlin, who I guess I am supposed to have heard of but haven’t since I only watch nature shows and old Errol Flynn movies on TV, allegedly gave $500,000 to get her children into the University of Southern California by having them designated as crew team recruits, even though neither had ever rowed, according to the indictment.

William Rick Singer, owner of the Key Worldwide Foundation and Edge College & Career Network who is said to be the mastermind of the scheme, has pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy; money laundering conspiracy; obstruction of justice and conspiracy to defraud the government. Supposedly, Singer made a cool $25 million helping students gain acceptance to top schools by making it possible for them to cheat on college entrance exams. He is scheduled to be sentenced June 19.

Evidently, some hotshot lawyers, CEOs, fashion designers, financial wizards, actors and the like are so out of touch with reality; they saw nothing wrong with payoffs to college officials to get their darlings into some of our nation’s fancy-shmancy universities.

Being that I am neither rich nor powerful — notwithstanding the fact that I do bear an uncanny resemblance to Brad Pitt — I must wonder at what point do you have so much money that integrity doesn’t matter anymore? Did any of this crowd ever consider that as a result of their actions, they — and the children they were trying to sneak into college — will forever be identified with this scheme and could possibly end up in jail?

I grew up in a blue-collar part of East Point, the son of loving parents who worked their tails off to see that their two boys would have a chance at an education that was denied them. Neither of my parents got past the seventh grade. My dad worked for the railroad for 49 years, most of it outside in what is now known as The Gulch in downtown Atlanta. My mother was a switchboard operator for an insurance company.

My parents couldn’t afford to send us to college. But they gave my brother and me a first-class education on life. My dad was all about integrity. A simple man, his world was black and white with little room for gray. Right was right and wrong was wrong. Don’t lie. Don’t cheat. Don’t steal. And deep down, we would know the difference.

It seems to have worked. My brother was president of a large publishing company in Chicago for a number of years and his little brother’s career wasn’t exactly chopped liver. Neither of us claim to be perfect, but neither did we compromise our integrity and besmirch our family’s good name. We were taught better.

One of my great joys is visiting with students in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Georgia. Several years ago, I established a professorship in Crisis Communications Leadership at Grady.

My hope is that one day these young people will sit at the head table with the lawyers in advising management on how to deal with crises. Legal advice is critical in a crisis, but so is external counsel.

I tell the students that our head can justify most anything if we rationalize long enough, but our gut will always tell us the truth. Sounds simple, but the fact is this display of unmitigated arrogance by the super-rich says they were listening to the wrong part of their body.

My dad was not a wealthy man when he died. He didn’t have a lot of money, but what he left us was priceless — an example of a life lived with honesty, integrity and always trying to do the right thing in the right way. As these rich folks who now find their fannies in a crack are learning, there are some things money can’t buy.