On March 12, 2019, Andrew Lelling, the United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, in what is now dubbed "Operation Varsity Blues", announced and exposed a nationwide conspiracy initiated by socially prominent and wealthy parents to influence college admissions decisions at several of the most revered universities across the United States to ensure sports for their children.
From financial bribes, falsifying of SAT scores, to fabrication of accepted students as student athletes, a total of fifty people have been charged, with the most notable culprits singled out as actresses Lori Loughlin -- star on "Fuller House" and "90210" -- and Felicity Huffman -- a Golden Globe recipient and Oscar nominee for her work on "Transamerica". Coupled with the Department of Education announcing it will conduct its own investigation alongside that which has been opened by the Department of Justice, it is highly probably more indictments will be on their way. Between the investigations thus far, eleven personnel from the following universities have become the subject of legal oversight -- Georgetown University, Stanford University, University of San Diego, Wake Forest University, University of Texas at Austin, Yale, USC, and our very own -- UCLA.
A large but quiet campus secluded between the upscale and equally as private neighbourhoods of Brentwood, Westwood, and Bel-Air, UCLA has managed to avoid much overhead courtesy of bad publicity while its students have -- calmly and pleasantly -- drifted back and forth between the classrooms of its bright halls, lounging on Janss Steps and the pastoral fields that spread before it and Powell Library. Making use of the sun drenched grass cooled by streaks of deep blue shadows cast by tall sycamores. It remained so even as its crosstown rival USC found itself embroiled in a scandal back in the fall, when then president Max Nikias was forced to resign when it was brought to light his administration had covered up 300 incidents of sexual assault, and misconduct allegations committed on the part of student health care centre gynaecologist Dr. George Tyndall. A university that has sailed into the highest echelons of renown for its pedagogical accomplishments across various fields of science, medicine, and the humanities since its inception in 1919, even UCLA's idyllic, seemingly untarnishable, straits could not save it from a shadow cast in blue deeper than its sycamores. As deep as varsity blue.
In the midst of the ethical and legal firestorm that has resulted in charges and the dismissal of high ranking university officials, in particular, the athletic departments where many of the alleged offenses are said to have taken place, one particular program at UCLA that has become subject of the nationwide controversy is the school's NCAA Division I Soccer Teams. Scrutiny that followed when, on the same day indictments were filed against Huffman and Loughlin, it was also discovered the now former head coach, Jorge Salcedo, accepted $200,000 in bribes to help two students gain acceptance into UCLA. A charge that was further compounded when another story broke concerning Lauren Isackson -- a junior who was accorded a spot on the Bruins Women's Soccer Team despite being, rather, an accomplished equestrian with next to little soccer experience -- after her parents paid $250,000 in Facebook stock to attain their daughter admission.
As a result of dishonesty that has far bypassed, and circumvented the standards of academic integrity and lawful statute, universities, specifically the ones named in Operation Varsity Blues, including UCLA, have vowed to conduct their own internal reviews. In order to further identify whether there remain any students, or officials, who continue to allow the former to venture between their classrooms, their dorms, and their halls, beneath the guise of doctored test scores, and any other relevant records. With penalties ranging from the rescinding of admission, expulsion, and voiding of degrees obtained.
Yet, in the thick of what is perhaps justified public outrage, and mounting legal battles initiated on the part of students who feel they were denied a fair admissions process, or one that was even remotely close, this scandal -- the largest of its kind -- is likely to yield more questions than what might be interpreted as an appropriate application of justice.
While it is a convincing case, on perhaps overwhelming proportions, to be made against the Lauren Isacksons, and the Olivia Jades, since many such students neither possessed the extracurricular, nor the academic merit to be admitted in the first place, then comes the following contention: What if Isackson managed to stay in good standing during her time at UCLA, her high school records not withstanding? What if she managed to keep a 3.2, even a 3.7 GPA without plagiarizing a single paper, or midterm? What if she DID have the grades worthy of admission and believed she was tendered such a privilege based on her work without being aware of her parents under-the-table dealings? Seems highly unlikely since she remained on the practice roster of the soccer team for an entire year -- a move she would have undoubtedly questioned if she got an acceptance letter, and, at the same time, was suddenly being asked to report for soccer practice without having played a shift of varsity soccer.
Still, to what degree were these students aware of such actions taken by their parents?
Whether they were, or they weren't, what if they've managed to prove they CAN meet the academic riggers of their post-secondary institutions (universities have been know to harbour the occasional pension for the underdog)? And if for the latter, is it appropriate, is it just, to punish a child for a mistake committed on the count of his/her guardians without knowledge of such egregious dishonesty they might have otherwise have never condoned?
Needless to say, whatever decision that is tendered on the count of the universities, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Education, there are bound to many left feeling cheated, accosted, and devalued. The price of remedying a system so broken, so unfair for so long -- with the hopes of making it more fair. Fair as the deep blue cast by the sycamores. A deep that has been the cause of much wonder, and much doubt -- that has been the endeavour of all ambitions sought. Whether honestly, or something more shaded.