Update on the Celebrity College Scandal

February 12, 2020

 The celebrity college admissions scandal, increasingly publicized and present in the news, is deeply upsetting to many—especially those who work honestly as educators to help students improve and develop as learners. Last week we got a bit of an update when the federal government filed a 526-page motion that contains heavily redacted emails and transcripts of phone calls which shed light on the “side door” approach enacted by Rick Singer, the mastermind behind the scam. 

The motion was filed in response to Lori Loughlin, Mossimo Giannulli, and other “rich and famous” defendants who have pleaded not guilty. Loughlin and Giannulli claim that the government has withheld evidence, that multiple uncharged officials at the University of Southern California were aware of the scam, and that they engaged in a legitimate practice in which universities “regularly solicit donations from the families of prospective students” that can impact the students’ chances of admission.

While the government’s motion provides little new information, it does give us an inside look into how Singer interacted with his “clients” and how college officials interacted with Singer.  Some of the emails show how Giannulli and Loughlin worked with Singer to create fake athletic profiles for their two daughters in order to get them into the University of Southern California. There is a call transcript between an official at the younger daughter’s high school and someone at USC admissions, confirming that the younger daughter does not, in fact, row.  There are also emails between Giannulli and the USC Alumni and Development office in which Giannulli declined their offer to flag his daughter’s application (which is a standard, ethical practice within legacy admissions— Giannulli went to USC but did not graduate), saying “we’re all squared away.” 

 The latest court filing also revealed how Singer told potential clients about his “side door approach” to getting their kids into competitive colleges. Singer claims that his approach isn’t wrong or improper—instead he claims that it is “how all schools fund their special programs or needs.” 

The college admissions scandal is disappointing, upsetting, and frankly disrespectful to students who work hard to earn a spot at a university. In the competitive admissions environment, it is disheartening to think that qualified students are getting turned down in favor of students from wealthy families who use unethical tactics to secure admission. We are glad this scandal is getting the attention it deserves. 

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