Point of View Columns

College Admissions in America – The Tip of the Iceberg

The series of revelations describing a veritable cesspool of corruption, cheating, bribery and betrayals in the admissions process at prestigious schools of higher education including Georgetown, Stanford, the University of California, Los Angeles, University of San Diego, University of Southern California, University of Texas, Austin, Wake Forest and Yale leaves one spectacular question swinging in the air like a rotting corpse of lies – what is it that we don’t know? In other words, in the jet-propelled world of high stakes college admissions, are we to believe that only the nine schools mentioned are the bad actors? Or are we looking at the tip of the iceberg?

In a country where a fake billionaire can lie his way into the presidency, why should we be surprised when anyone with $50,000 to $4,000,000 can lie and cheat to get their son or daughter into the college of their choice, instead of their child being chosen by the college on the basis of something resembling merit? The audacity of the half a hundred otherwise wealthy and respectable defendants is breathtaking in that whatever concerns that they might have about equity, fairness or….wait for it…..setting a good example for their children, were outweighed by their desire to be able to say that their child was a student at Yale, UCLA, Georgetown, etc.

In a culture where imagined success literally trumps actual success, we cannot be surprised to find out that there are privileged young men and women are at this very moment students in colleges and schools that they are not qualified to attend. And it is tragic that students who might actually benefit from having a cherished once in a lifetime opportunity to attend these schools are not attending because their place has been taken by someone who already has access to every opportunity that life has to offer.

But we should not be deceived into thinking that this is simply a matter of a few (fifty???) bad actors trying to game the college admissions system with several millions of dollars and some photo shopped applications. This is not the only way that the United Privileged Parents of America are gaming the college admissions system.

We should understand that even reasonably bright and capable young men and women are being asked to compete for seats in universities and colleges all over America with young men and women (who may or may not be reasonably bright and capable) who have the advantage of having SAT “coaches” and college admissions consultants which can cost their parents tens of thousands of dollars a year – not to mention the fact that attendance a prestigious (and therefore brutally expensive) private prep schools and “special” public schools. In other words, the system is so rigged that the notion of equal access and success based on merit are simply wisps of words that need not even be spoken.

The magnitude of these crimes are almost too profound to comprehend as we will never know how many truly qualified students are being denied admission to colleges. The magnitude of the crime of rigging the entire college admissions system to solely benefit the children of the rich and privileged not only deprives the children of everyone else, it also deprives this country of its best talent and its best chance for a successful future.

John D. Rockefeller, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Michelle Obama, Reginald Lewis, Mario Cuomo, Mark Cuban, Elizabeth Warren and Ted Cruz are just a few of the contemporary prominent achievers who would never have been able to compete in the high stakes college admissions racket – their parents simply didn’t have enough money to “buy” opportunity through SAT coaches, college consultants, etc., much less be able to buy their children’s admissions at schools where the price only needs to be right.

We may never find out the scope and breadth of the outright bribery that is taking place in the college admissions universe. There are prosecutors and judges and juries and prisons that can address this kind of bad behavior. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

The iceberg is the entire imbalance in the K-12 and college/university environment where power plus money equals college admission. And this situation makes it all the more problematic when conservative foundations and their attack lawyers seek to eliminate the few programs that seek to successfully level the playing field for those whose parents are not rich and powerful. Because some day, sooner than later, those without power and money will simply need not apply.

And that is the real tragedy for these United States.

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Point of View Columns

In Search of Obama

There is no doubt that history will refer to Barack Obama as a U.S. President Like No Other. There is the obvious aspect of his being the first African American president. But he was also the president who led this country out of a backbreaking economic disaster while easing the United States out of two unwinnable wars. There is also the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) which transformed the American vision of healthcare and the Dodd Frank Act which was the first major reform of the American financial services industry in almost 80 years. And now, it is time for Barack Obama to be an Ex-President of the United States Like No Other.

Donald Trump is on a daily voyage between tragedy and travesty. His sense of the presidency is informed only by his massive lack of knowledge and his disdain for even the most basic precepts of American government. But his incompetence, ignorance and ill-will are distractions from the real damage he is doing to this country by empowering right wing ideologues and conservative fanatics to wreak havoc upon the American people.

Sadly, the list of harmful acts courtesy of Trump is virtually endless. The exit from the Paris Climate Accords is but one example of the kind of endless global damage that this man is capable of causing. The return to criminalizing low-level non-nonviolent drug offenses guarantees that the Incarceration State will be alive and well in this country for years to come. The elimination of labor safety laws and the all-out assault on voting rights, civil rights and women’s rights are also signs of the messy handiwork of the Man Called Trump.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama has largely observed the unwritten rule that ex-presidents do not criticize their successors, at least for the first year. But now the first year is up and the President Like No Other has to become the Ex-President Like No Other. Because the reality is that Barack Obama, perhaps unintentionally, became the leader of a progressive surge that countered a quarter of a century of conservative ascendancy.

While no one would ever confuse the 44th President of the United States with being a radical progressive, his presence on the national political landscape empowered progressive men and women to envision an America where the meanest and least civil aspects of the conservative movement were no longer inevitable. And indeed, there are options to the fevered dreams and wishes of the Ayn Rand acolytes who would transform political and policy dialogue into a Maker-Taker Texas death match.

And this is where Barack Obama comes in. While Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Corey Booker and who knows who else position themselves for a possible presidential run in 2020, there is real work to be done right now. This country cannot afford three more years of Democratic rope-a-dope and because he cannot run for president in 2020, Barack Obama can be the honest and true voice of progressive concerns, in the process concentrating constant and withering criticism of the man who challenged his citizenship, his college degree and his law school credentials.

When Barack Obama points out that Donald Trump has managed to denigrate black Americans with his dog whistle call to Make America Great (White) again while treating women like disposable accessories and demeaning and insulting the American immigrant community and the international community of color, people will listen and listen differently.

We have heard President Obama say that he has run the race and many would agree that he deserves time to be himself. But the mantle of leadership is not an easy one to cast aside and in these dangerous days and times he simply cannot observe and occasionally comment.

Barack Obama became President of the United States carrying a message of “Hope and Change”. If there was ever a time for Hope, it is now. If there was ever a time for Change, it is now. In 2008 this country was ready for that message.

And now, a decade later, America is ready for that message – again. And Barack Obama needs to be that messenger.

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