By Tristan McIntosh, PhD
In early March, news headlines unveiled that a group of rich and famous families used bribery and other fraudulent means to get their children admitted to selective, prestigious universities with the aid of university administrators and coaches. These devious behaviors include illegitimate use of disability diagnoses to gain advantages in standardized testing, paying for exam proctors to cheat on college entrance exams, and bribing university administrators and coaches to nominate and facilitate the admission of unqualified recruits. This becomes further problematic when one considers that many are already disadvantaged in the college admissions process and that these acts may have further perpetuated difficulties, especially for people of color and those with disabilities.
When first hearing about this scandal, one of the first questions that came to mind was, “Why?” Of course, parents want the best for their kids, and getting admitted to a prestigious university is a prized marker of status that reflects onto both the parent and the child. Getting an education from one of these universities is, in its own way, a form of life insurance; the end result is typically a good degree, good job, good money, and a good life. Who wouldn’t want that, either for themselves or for someone they care about? From that perspective, it’s understandable. But just because we can understand why someone might choose to do this, doesn’t make it right. Societal pressures such as wanting a good life and high status make it tempting to bend the rules to get ahead, or in this case, to stay ahead.
From another perspective, it’s important to consider, why did the universities choose to allow this? What were the coaches and administrators thinking? Why would someone create a business around helping people cheat their way into school? They may have felt compelled to participate in this scheme because of the opportunity to pocket additional money, a chance to advance their careers, or the increased donation-based cash flow to the university or department in play.
Pressure to succeed and advance are everywhere and can influence all of us at any time, and in any place, if we aren’t careful. So what can be done to avoid falling prey to these pressures that could cause unethical, or even illegal, behavior? Below are three helpful hints for ways to avoid falling into this trap that apply to everyone:
The Ethics Advantage Team