Operation Varsity Blues Just Got Weirder
Well, that was fast: two Stanford University students are filing a class-action lawsuit against Yale, the University of Southern California, UCLA, and a number of other colleges and universities involved in the college admissions scandal.
According to the lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, Kalea Woods and Erica Olsen, two current Stanford University students, are filing suit against the schools implicated in the scandal, as well as William “Rick” Singer, the alleged mastermind behind the admissions scheme. Both students allege that they were denied a fair opportunity to apply to the schools, and are seeking compensation for their application fees, punitive damages and “any other relief that the court deems proper.”
In the complaint, Olsen alleges that she applied to Yale University under false pretenses. The complaint alleges that although she had impressive credentials (such as an ACT score of 35 and SAT score of 2290, as well as athletic ability), she was “never informed that the process of admission was an unfair, rigged process, in which rich parents could buy their way into the university through bribery. Had she known that the system at Yale University was warped and rigged by fraud, she would not have spent the money to apply to the school.”
Woods similarly alleges that she applied to the University of Southern California under false pretenses, and would never have applied to the school had she known that parents were effectively bribing school coaches and administrators to gain admission for their children. “She also did not receive what she paid for — a fair admissions consideration process,” the complaint states.
Perhaps most interestingly, Olsen and Woods also name Stanford in the complaint, despite being currently enrolled at the school. Former Stanford sailing coach John Vandemoer has been accused of accepting bribes in exchange for recommending applicants for placement on the sailing team, none of whom ended up attending Stanford University. (Vandemoer has pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy charges.)
In the complaint, Olsen and Woods argue that the value of their degrees has diminished, “because prospective employers may now question whether [they were] admitted to the university on [their] own merits, versus having rich parents who were willing to bribe school officials.”
The class action suit is said to represent “all individuals who, between 2012 and 2018, applied to UCLA, USC, USD, Stanford University, UT-Texas at Austin, Wake Forest University, Georgetown University, or Yale University, paid an admission application fee to one or more of these universities, with respect to an admission application that was rejected by the university.” Essentially, the suit is arguing that these individuals represented in the class action lawsuit, deserve restitution because their spots were given to less deserving candidates. (It’s unclear from the filing if Olsen and Woods were denied admission at Yale and USC, respectively.)
But Neal Rosenberg, an education lawyer based in New York City, says this would be difficult, if not impossible, to prove.
“I don’t believe that these people have a civil action,” he tells Rolling Stone in a phone interview. “You would have to prove that you, who spent 100 dollars to apply, were denied admission because your spot was given to somebody involved in fraud, and that would be virtually impossible to do.”
To be granted financial relief from the court, they would have to prove they had been adversely impacted by the colleges’ admissions decisions, which Rosenberg believes they would not be able to do. “I understand the anger here. But they cannot show any harm, even if they were rejected by one of the schools they applied to, as they are both currently students at a school they wanted to go to,” he said.
Through his college admissions counseling company the Key, Singer is alleged to have bribed athletics coaches at elite schools to recommend students for admission, setting up fraudulent athletic profiles to convince the admissions team they were worthwhile candidates. He is also alleged to have bribed SAT and ACT test administrators to alter students’ answers on the exam, thus boosting their scores.
“As a result of both of these coordinated fraudulent bribery schemes, conducted through wire and mail fraud, unqualified students found their way into the admissions rolls of highly selective universities, while those students who played by the rules and did not have college-bribing parents were denied admission,” the lawsuit alleges.
Fifty people, including 33 parents and nine college athletics coaches and administrators, are facing charges as a result of their alleged involvement in the scheme. Singer has pleaded guilty to money laundering, racketeering and obstruction of justice, among other charges, and faces up to 65 years in prison.
Going forward, Rosenberg says that colleges and universities will likely have to aggressively revamp their admissions processes, perhaps by hiring people to review admissions protocols and ensure that candidates and admissions materials can be validated independently. “It is a pity this has taken place and there will have to be reforms to prevent this from happening again,” he says.
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