More sordid details of the college admissions scandal

I feel like I need a shower before I even write about this stuff—not because it’s sordid (which it is), but because it’s Hollywood gossip. On the other hand, the 2019 college admissions scandal—in which many parents paid bribes and fees and construct false resumes to get their kids into prestigious colleges—really bothers me. Perhaps it’s because it’s the desecration of what a university means, but I think that the participants in this scandal (53 have been charged, 33 of which are parents) need to get reasonably stiff sentences to deter others from lying on their resumes—or encouraging others to do so.  At least that’s what I tell myself, though I feel a strong retributivist instinct that clashes with my belief that we have no free will.

That aside, I think, and am probably right, that those who contest the charges, like actor Lori Laughlin and her husband  Mossimo Giannulli, will, if convicted, face stiffer jail sentences than parents like Felicity Huffman, who pleaded guilty, showed contrition, and spent ten days in jail. Laughlin and Giannulli have, according to CNN, “been charged with three conspiracy counts for allegedly paying $500,000 in bribes to get their two daughters into USC.” The pair could theoretically be sentenced to years in prison if convicted, but that’s not going to happen.

Below you see the tangible evidence that angers me: the confected profile of daughter Olivia Jade Gianulli (an “influencer”) that was part of her application, pretending that she was a rowing star. (She never lifted an oar in her life.) It was apparently accompanied by phony pictures of both of their daughters on rowing machines. Every accomplishment on this document, released by prosecutors, is an arrant lie.

I suspect the parents will be convicted if they foolishly insist on continuing to fight the charges, and I hope they get at least a couple of months in prison (“the ‘not guilty’ plea tax). I am surprised, though, that the two daughters won’t face any charges. The NBC News last night reported that prosecutors are trying to pressure Laughlin and her husband to plead guilty by threatening to force their daughter to testify against them.

So far those who have falsified documents and paid bribes have gotten off fairly lightly, though mastermind William Rick Singer hasn’t yet been sentenced. Maybe a light sentence is a just sentence here, but some demon in me insists that those who pull these kinds of stunts on colleges should be put in the slammer for a while and then branded as felons. And Olivia Jade, who is surely complicit in this, should at least no longer be an “influencer”. What kind of “influence” comes with lying your way into the University of Southern California?

Here’s how an “influencer” gets subscribers and lots of money (she’s 20, and left USC after the scandal broke):


  1. Roo
    Posted February 11, 2020 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    What I am very curious about is why these parents didn’t spend the same amount of money in donations to a school. However you feel about that particular custom, it would not only have been legal, but probably applauded as philanthropy. Was it a point of pride to pretend that their kids got in without mom and dad making a huge donation, or what?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 11, 2020 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

      And why would they want their kid to get in by cheating? Doesn’t it cheapen the whole thing? Perhaps they’ve lived in a plastic Hollywood world so long that nothing seems cheap anymore.

      • Posted February 11, 2020 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

        Also, would it not be expected that if they got in, as planned, that they would be expected to do a lot of rowing?

    • ploubere
      Posted February 11, 2020 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      Not sure if 500 grand is enough to buy legacy admissions to an ivy league school anymore. I wonder if they have a price sheet.

      • Simon Hayward
        Posted February 11, 2020 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

        For context, that’s less than the four year costs for two students (USC, currently has a list price of $77,459 plus extraneous expenses per student annually.)

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted February 11, 2020 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

          Good grief that’s shocking!

          • Simon Hayward
            Posted February 11, 2020 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

            I’m sure the food is very good and the rooms are comfortable! Federal prison is “only” about $35k/p.a. by comparison but you have to share a room and the food, by all accounts, lacks variety.

            • JezGrove
              Posted February 11, 2020 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

              I’m pretty sure I saw something about ramen noodles being a major jail currency nowadays.

          • eric
            Posted February 11, 2020 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

            USC had the sobriquet “University of Spoiled Children” decades before the scandal broke. It’s always been a primary choice of southern California wealthy families whose kids couldn’t get into one of top tier UC schools, or Stanford, or Cal Tech, etc…

        • Posted February 11, 2020 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

          For reference, I went to USC for my undergrad in 1970-74. I had a scholarship that covered it all in the first year but fell short by the last year when the cost had risen to around $4k per year.

  2. eric
    Posted February 11, 2020 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    I am surprised, though, that the two daughters won’t face any charges.

    Well, most would’ve been minors at the time of application (though that doesn’t stop the full force of law from coming down on poor minors…)

    I’m willing to be pragmatic about this: the goal here is to deter/prevent other future attempts. Most if not all of the time, those attempts will be funded and run by the parents. So the “target audience” for these cases are the parents who might be considering similar cheats.

    Sure, there may be some exceptions. But consider that any kid who earned their fortune in their own right could legitimately use that as a selling point. They probably don’t need to cheat to get in. It’s the kids who haven’t accomplished much but yet have access to money that may need to cheat. And that’s pretty much limited to wealthy families…thus, “parental involvement” may be a pretty good assumption.

    • Posted February 12, 2020 at 5:55 am | Permalink

      I agree, and presumably the children in question have been expelled from university. I think that punishment is already appropriate.

  3. Posted February 11, 2020 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    As one who held two jobs to get through college, I have zero sympathy for these Hollywood elites. I hope that are appropriately jailed.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 11, 2020 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

      Yeah me too. The nice thing about going to university was that it didn’t matter who your parents were or how much money you had, when you were in a classroom with me, we were all intellectually equal.

    • ploubere
      Posted February 11, 2020 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

      I worked my way through one year of undergrad at George Washington U. by getting a job as a campus security guard, which allowed me to take classes tuition-free, which otherwise would have cost 30 grand even back in the 80s. Most of the other students were highly privileged. A few of the teachers treated me as an oddity and regarded me skeptically even though I earned good grades.

      • Posted February 11, 2020 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

        Maybe it was the uniform and gun you wore to class that drew the stares.

        Just kidding. Sounds like you had it covered.

        • ploubere
          Posted February 11, 2020 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

          They gave me a uniform but not a gun. They didn’t trust me with that.

  4. Diana MacPherson
    Posted February 11, 2020 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    Indeed. This whole thing is horrible because it pricks at both our sense of fairness and at the idea of meritocracy – an ideal that universities are supposed to uphold & promote (and one I personally find myself beholden to).

    I think it bothers me that the system is set up to allow someone to cheat. Perhaps universities need to be looked at for their willingness to accept bribes and such.

  5. Simon Hayward
    Posted February 11, 2020 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    I’m wondering why the idea of stiff sentences bothers you. From a free will perspective the example of a sentence is to change the perceptions and thus decisions of others down the line. So an action now is reflected in the secondarily redirected “free will” of others.

  6. Randall Schenck
    Posted February 11, 2020 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    Speaking of get out of prison free, I see Roger Stone who was found guilty on 7 counts I think with recommendation of 6 or 7 years is not likely to go as Trump may have had Barr step in on that one. Also looks like he may be doing the same on Flynn. Now that Trump owns the Justice Dept. things will be different. I guess owning the Senate and the Supreme court just is not enough.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 11, 2020 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

      And don’t we all accuse Putin of this behaviour. The US looks more like Russia every day.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted February 11, 2020 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

        Like father like son.

  7. grasshopper
    Posted February 11, 2020 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    “Baubles, bangles, hear how they jing, jinga-linga
    Baubles, bangles, bright shiny beads
    Sparkles, spangles, your heart will sing, singa-linga
    Wearin’ baubles, bangles and beads” …

    — Sung by Bling Crosby?

  8. JezGrove
    Posted February 11, 2020 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    Given the traditional routes the rich have for buying their kids the best education available (at least in the UK: their offspring must be seriously deficient if they still need to break the law to achieve it.

  9. Posted February 11, 2020 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    This whole business is a drop in the bucket compared to the corruption and cynicism of big time colleg sports.

  10. merilee
    Posted February 11, 2020 at 9:21 pm | Permalink


  11. merilee
    Posted February 11, 2020 at 9:21 pm | Permalink


  12. boudiccadylis
    Posted February 12, 2020 at 12:42 am | Permalink

    I look at this from a different perspective. When I first heard about this all I could think was how grateful I am that my parents didn’t think I was too stupid to get into college and then advertise it to the world. I agree some jail time seems appropriate.

    But with the wokeness and other issues challenging our institutions of education this seems to be a timely event.

  13. Andrea Jackson
    Posted February 13, 2020 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    What a joke this is,these Hollywood parent’s knew exactly what they were doing was wrong,as did their daughter’s.They should be treated like your every day person and should spend some time it jail but they will probably just get a slap on the wrist,as we all know money talks,right!

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