Scandals from the Ivory Tower

As a former administrator at two universities, I find the recent admissions scandals interesting but not surprising. Once again, the esteemed academy has been tarnished and not only by this incident. For example, the University of Louisville fired its basketball coach for allegedly hiring prostitutes and paying recruits. Shortly after that its President resigned. He was sued for allegedly misusing funds and making unusually high payments to himself from the school’s foundation.

A Leadership Deficit

If leaders create culture, then problems like these connote leadership deficits. In fact, scandals at universities abound, so fixing them starts at the top. Consider that USC fired its medical dean, an alleged drug user who regularly interacted with criminals. Conversely, UC Berkley erupted in riots, when conservative Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak. He needed evacuation by police to protect him.

In 1969 Governor Ronald Reagan intervened decisively in those Berkeley riots. He dispatched and empowered the National Guard and chastised university officials and the riots stopped. In contrast, the current university chancellor, president and governor seemingly did little to quell this most recent disturbance. In fact, one student attending the speech was pepper-sprayed by masked and violent protestors. Now that student is suing the university and the city for not protecting her.

She claims further that university administrators express open hostility toward conservatives. Evidently Berkeley chancellor Nicholas Dirks said this about Yiannopoulos, “ (he’s) a troll and provocateur who uses odious behavior in part to ‘entertain,’ but also to deflect any serious engagement with ideas.”

We have “scholars” distorting data and lying to get research grants; professors ridiculing evangelicals and Catholics for their faith and masked protesters erupting against opposing views. Sure colleges and universities tout themselves as safe places where students can pursue “truth”, but the reality can be quite different. In fact, right now the US Justice Department reports that one-in-four female students will be sexually assaulted before they graduate, and it’s actually higher because 70% of victims don’t report it. Beyond that, some institutions have become bastions of intolerance. Raucous behavior and riots replace debate; political correctness replaces free speech.


Now comes the latest “pay-to-play” scandal. Allegedly coaches have been bribed, underperforming students have been admitted, significant payments have been made, and (for a fee) parents have had surrogates take SAT tests for their children. While Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin are the poster children for this, there are allegedly hundreds more involved.

What’s interesting is that some of America’s most “elite” institutions are implicated (Yale, Stanford, USC, Wake Forest, etc.), and it’s been happening for a while. A 2009 Chicago Tribune story exposed abuses at the University of Illinois, where politically connected students received preferential admissions treatment regardless of their academic credentials. Also, the University of North Carolina offered over 200 fraudulent classes for two decades, mostly to athletes.

Though coaches are accused of using prostitutes, making payments and offering bribes to get students into schools, universities have been prostituting themselves for decades. More than a few underperforming students have secured enrollment after a relative made a significant donation to a capital campaign project.

The Perfect Storm

College costs continue to rise well beyond the CPI. Right now student loan debt exceeds $1.5 trillion, and a good portion of that is because students can’t afford college. Tuition, fees, room and board now top $70,000 per year at many colleges and $50,000 or better at hundreds more.

Consider a recent U.S. Bureau of Labor report showing that tuition and fees were 1,333.76% higher in 2019 versus 1978. Simultaneously, another report showed there are more than 100 universities with endowments exceeding $1 billion. Harvard tops that list with over $38 billion. So why isn’t there more help for students and where is all of this leading?

I believe higher education is in for a rough ride. Declining demographics, less expensive online options and rising costs have created a perfect storm. People regularly question the value of a degree. So where is the leadership and what can parents do? I’ll cover that in my next blog.