On Academic Honesty
When news of the college admissions scandal broke the other day, I was both surprised and not. For decades, wealthy parents have paid huge sums to buy their children’s way into elite universities. But instead of the normal quid pro quo (e.g., “You buy us a building, and we’ll let your kid into our school.”), this latest scandal was pure fraud that involved bribes and dishonesty among hundreds of people. From parents to test proctors to psychiatrists to coaches, it seems that no one’s hands are clean.
After researching the scandal inside and out, I wondered: If this news broke when I was a high school upperclassman, what would I think? How would I react to the fact that an entire scheme had been concocted to undermine a system that already overwhelmingly favors the wealthy and well connected?
To say the least, I wouldn’t have a positive reaction. For that reason, I want to reach out to current high school upperclassmen, the people applying to the schools caught up in this scandal (I have no doubt that more complicit schools and individuals will come to light in the coming days. That’s what happens with scandals – they just get bigger.)
What Honesty Is
Today I am going to give you two examinations, one in trigonometry and one in honesty. I hope you will pass them both, but if you must fail one, let it be trigonometry, for there are many good [people] in this world today who cannot pass an examination in trigonometry, but there are no good [people] in the world who cannot pass an examination in honesty.
As a Vanderbilt undergraduate, I passed this quote just about every day. It’s posted outside the Sarratt Student Center in the middle of campus. If you walked through the doors next to it, you’d be greeted by four massive framed documents: the signatures of every undergraduate student, a contract to abide by the university’s rules regarding academic honesty.
Honesty is a lesson most of us learn as children, and it’s a shame that some college students do not know it. It’s a greater shame that in this most recent scandal, it was the parents at fault. Did their children, many of whom took spots from more deserving applicants, know what was going on? We might never find out. Should they be asked to leave? That’s not my call, and I’m not sure what my decision would be if I were a dean.
One thing I don’t want you to take away from this scandal is that since the rich and influential were trying to buy their children’s way into elite schools, you should only pursue elite schools during the college admissions process. To the people who broke the law, these schools are nothing more than status symbols. “Hey, my kid got into USC. Isn’t she so smart? Aren’t I a great parent?”
To the college-bound young men and women reading this, let me reiterate a very important fact: college is still worth it. Others’ lying, bribing, and cheating does not devalue the pride you feel after getting into a top school, earning a good grade on a test, or working your hardest to achieve the life you want.