Operation Varsity Blues
Updated: Jul 13, 2021
Like many of you, I was stunned, flabbergasted, dumbfounded, stupefied, and had to pull my chin up off the floor when I heard about the college admissions scandal known as Operation Varsity Blues. You all know the story by now. Fifty wealthy, or famous, or wealthy and famous parents bribed their children’s way into some of the most elite universities in the country—University of Southern California, UCLA, Stanford, Georgetown, and Yale among them. The scandal included college athletics personnel, test proctors for the College Board, a college consultant who was the mastermind behind it, a very youthful looking 36 year old who flew back and forth across the country taking SAT exams for others and who requested special accommodations typically reserved only for students who absolutely need them, a clothing designer, and, of course, famous actors. One of those actors is a particular favorite of mine. It kind of gave new meaning to the name of a show in which she starred—Desperate Housewives.
My reaction had multiple layers. Would parents really commit criminal acts to ensure their child’s acceptance at Yale or Stanford? Why? Would they really pay bribes, cheat, and photoshop their child’s face onto the body of a water polo player to guarantee admission to Georgetown or USC? Again, why? And how would the student fare? Would she be able to maintain acceptable grades in rigorous classes? Would he be able to discuss issues of consequence with classmates and professors? While all of these questions ran through my head the one I kept coming back to was this: there are approximately 3,500 institutions of higher education in the United States. Nearly all of them are “good” colleges and universities, defined as colleges that help young adults learn, think, face difficulties, prepare for careers, expand their horizons, and help them grow into the people they want to become. Would none of the 3,499 others do?
During a 45 year career in higher education administration, both as an administrator and as an adjunct professor, I have marveled at the talented and passionate faculty and staff I have worked with whose primary goal was to help students succeed. At all of the colleges and universities I have worked at, large and small, well-known and barely known, this has been done through rigorous coursework taught by faculty who are specialists in their disciplines and who are extraordinary teachers. It is accomplished with librarians who are phenomenal! No matter where I have worked, librarians have been among the most knowledgeable, professional, and kindhearted employees. With student services professionals—enrollment services staff, career counselors, academic advisors, disability support specialists—who are always devising new ways, more effective ways, to help students achieve their goals. Good colleges are those where student activities, orientation, and residential life staff try to make every student feel included and welcome and provide activities that appeal to a broad range of interests; where the finance staff continually strive to make the issue of payment easier on students by developing expanded and more flexible payment options; where IT staff make sure the college has all the on-campus technology needed for students, faculty, and staff to do their work; and where maintenance staff rearrange furniture, plow the snow, rearrange furniture, paint offices and classrooms, rearrange furniture, mow the lawns, and rearrange furniture for the myriad events that are held on campus each day. Every person who works at a college plays a role in a student’s education and a good college is one where every employee understands that.
I was sooooo confused! I knew nothing about college. All I knew was that Spencer had left for college that morning and I thought I wouldn’t see him again for four years! I couldn’t stop crying! I threw myself on the floor and wailed away, my arms flailing wildly, while all my classmates nervously watched. Miss Edna got me calmed down and asked Newt to bring me a hanky.
We asked Miss Edna to explain what college was all about and the first thing she said was that the students get to come home for vacation and that I would probably be seeing Spencer in a couple of months. I was so excited! And so relieved. And she told us so many other things, too. I hope I can remember them all.
Let’s see. She said you can go to a college that’s far away or close to home, whichever you prefer. Some colleges are large and some are pretty small, some are in cities and some in rural areas. At some schools you can even live at home and commute to college each day if you want. I don’t know why Spencer couldn’t have chosen one of those schools.
Miss Edna also said that college is very hard and that you have to study a lot and learn to manage your time to keep up with the work. She told us about her roommate Trixie. You know what she was doing the day before a big paper was due? Shopping and polishing her toe nails! She’d only been to the library for an hour to do her research and there was no way she was going to finish the paper in time. Trixie didn’t return for the next semester.
Not everything about college is hard work though. Miss Edna said there are all sorts of activities no matter what you like to do. You can sing in a choir, join a chess club, be part of a political organization, play sports, or join an acting group. That’s what I want to do! And maybe I’ll become a star and plush dogs will be made in my likeness!
But, there are so many colleges to choose from, how will I know which ones are good and where I should go?
Choosing a college can be difficult although there are ways to make it easier. Books, books, and more books have been written about the process of choosing a college. In my next blog post, I will try to whittle the excellent advice offered in those books to a shorter and, perhaps, more manageable form. For now, the most important thing to remember is that there are some 3,500 institutions of higher education out there. Each one of them is just the right place for somebody. Our country’s colleges and universities are incredibly diverse—as diverse as the students who attend. That’s the concept to keep in mind as you begin your search.