Different schools definitely do this differently, and not all schools even conduct background checks — but many of them do now and the process may seem intimidating. “Ohmygosh. They’re going to dig into my background. I have so many skeletons in my closet. What will they find?!?” Relax, Brave Supplicant. If you are an honest…
No joke, those were the first words that CynicalSnark uttered here in the office when we saw the news about this bust with all the arrests of the admissions consulting bribery ring .
Get super-rich clients whose parents will donate big bucks to the athletic team in order for the coach to find a spot? Well that seems like an easy way to help a kid make it into college!!!
Obviously CynicalSnark doesn’t run the show here at EssaySnark and obviously we care way too much about ethics to try and pull off anything like this (64 posts and counting in our “ethics” category of posts here on the blahg; that’s more than we’ve written about Tuck or Haas!!).
But this scandal exposes an unfortunate reality in the world of elite universities: Yes you can pay to play.
This is much more common in college admissions but we’ve seen it happen in MBA programs too: A well-connected alumnus/a makes a call. A substantial donation is made to a scholarship fund. A well-connected alumnus/a’s child is suddenly accepted.
We’ve even advised some clients of means to go that route when they really, really, really wanted to get in to a specific school and their profile was just too crappy to make it in (why are so many super-wealthy applicants’ GMAT scores so low??? hmmmm.) And yes, they made it in.
That’s not necessarily illegal but is it unethical? Seems like it, doesn’t it? From the schools’ perspective, why are they willing to prostitute themselves in that way? Or is the applicant the prostitute? Not sure which way the unpleasant metaphor lands, but paying for something like this in America is seedy at best. And yet, it’s done all the time.
Really hate that the system works that way, but it does. Nothing we can do about it. Many experts and analysts in the education field (and other admissions consultant) who have been interviewed about this college admissions scandal have said that they don’t expect things to change. Not really.
What happened in specific in this case is, for example at Stanford, the coach of the sailing team was approached by this admissions consultant on behalf of the consultant’s clients. His clients were these wealthy parents who wanted their kids to go to Stanford. The consultant had set up a non-profit for the parents to donate to, and the consultant was offering to make a donation to the Stanford sailing team as a quid pro quo: Stanford sailing gets the money, and the coach somehow is able to find a spot for the kid on his team — even though the kid did not sail and did not even qualify as an athlete.
This happened in schools across the country with athletic teams who were not seen as stars of campus, the niche rich-kid sports like tennis, crew and water polo — to the tune of $25 million over the years.
And oh yeah: As of today, Stanford doesn’t have a sailing coach. The coach who facilitated these pay-for-play deals there was fired and he’s facing jail time. Other coaches have been placed on leave, and the schools are “investigating.” Yeah, maybe they should’ve investigated earlier? Isn’t it suspicious when so much money arrives out of nowhere like that, especially when it was sometimes tied to the admits of multiple kids from the same family? Not only were there people in the schools actively involved in this and justifying their actions, but there must’ve been many many others who suspected something foul and looked the other way.
And just ‘cuz it’s so damn juicy and brazen, we’ll crib this image of a transcript of the call courtesy of the WaPo:
The other part of the scandal of course is paying someone to take a test for your kid. And to that we say 😯
The most heartbreaking thing?
If you read through the transcripts of calls between actress Felicity Huffman and the “admissions consultant” dude who was orchestrating these scams, her second daughter wanted to get in on her own. The older daughter used the SAT test-center scam where her test results were “corrected” by someone on the inside of this ring, and presumably was able to use her artificially improved score to make it into a good school. The younger daughter was “academically driven” says Ms. Huffman on the call and wanted to take the test at least twice on her own. Yet her mom was meddling in it and arranging cheating on her behalf — when it sounds like the daughter didn’t want her to. 🙁
Dang, parents. WTF?
How do you think your kid’s gonna feel their whole life when they know that they only got in to fancy-pants college because their parents PAID for it? That’ll send you to therapy later on.
At least in this situation, the court docs say that the daughter did not use the test-cheater’s services. Good for you, second Huffman daughter!!
The way we see it, all of this boils down to the issue of wealthy people thinking the rules don’t apply to them, and the very
slippery slimy lack of ethics that follows from that. There are hucksters and scammers in every part of life and everyone is trying to play the game. It may seem like there were no victims in this scheme; it would’ve been really easy for an individual parent to justify these actions. After all, for the sports-donation side, they could feel holy and righteous in making a big donation that they otherwise would not have done, that enabled the school to do more for that underappreciated sport. (Those poor water polo players, nobody gives them any love.)
Yeah. No. Nope nope not.
This is a case where that kid from the cheating family got a spot where some other kid who was working hard and trying to make it on her own merits did not.
Hate it hate it hate it all the way to the parade.
So no, we’re not doing it wrong. We believe in the perhaps naive-sounding American dream, where you work hard and you get places in life. Maybe that’s all a charade, a trick played on the lower and middle classes to trap them, with all those rich 1%ers laughing into their tea. Dunno. We’re not in that group. Plenty of former BSers are but you probably are not.
What we know is that hard work makes you happy, and EARNING your place in life lets you sleep at night.
So that’s where we end up on all of this.
Thoughts? Comments? Shock and horror that this is going on? Lay it on us in the comments if you want to share your opinions.
Will the system change? No, not fundamentally. It’s how capitalism works. The schools are selling elitism — not an education.
That’s why we’re so meh about rankings in the first place.
That problem is too big for us to solve.
So all we can do is say, values matter, and that’s how we choose to live.
You’ll make your own choices in life. When you’re in the rich 1% class, hopefully you’ll remember and keep that moral compass in good working order.
PS: USC seemingly cannot get a break. They have had scandal after scandal after scandal in the past few years. We do NOT currently recommend USC to any applicants for any program, whether MBA at Marshall or otherwise. There is something rotted there.
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…. changing their data?!?!????
What is this?
EssaySnark keeps tabs on things like app volumes and GMAT scores reported by all the top schools, as a way to track trends in the industry and see what schools are currently in favor among applicants and which ones may be the “sleeper school” that can be surprisingly easy to break into — and which schools are actively working to make improvements to their offering, and which might be coasting a bit. Data is just what we do.
We’ve recently been pleased to see some schools be more forthcoming with more kinds of data about their student body, including a newish development of admissions teams disclosing GRE data on accepted applicants, and at a few schools, even some greater transparency in how many underrepresented minorities are in their incoming class. NYU has been particularly generous with publishing data, and a few other schools including Yale, Cornell, and others have also given more insight into their class on these helpful dimensions.
So needless to say, this is stuff we tend to track.
Imagine our surprise last week when we discovered some weird-a@@ discrepancies in the data we’ve captured over the years, compared to what Harvard Business School’s website was now showing.
Here’s what it WAS…
And here’s what their website has just been updated to…
Where did those additional 371 applications come from???
That was enough of an increase that it pushed the admit rate to 11% from 12%.
Where were these mysterious new applications hiding?
Were these a stack of files that had slipped behind some admissions director’s file cabinet and were only now uncovered when they moved offices?
Like what is UP with this?
This is one reason why we couldn’t in good conscience give HBS the Radcom of the Year Award last week. (That went to MIT, in case you were wondering.)
At first we thought maybe they had changed their reporting methodology and had previously excluded the HBS 2+2 applicants from the count of standard full-time applicants, and decided to retroactively put them together…. but this theory was debunked when we consulted our trusty database of school stats and were reminded that Harvard has been getting well over 1,000 applications for 2+2 every year since at least 2015. An increase of <400 is way too small to be representing this pool. They also are now reporting higher enrollment for the Class of 2015, from 1,838 to 1,865. Where did these 27 students come from? How had they been overlooked before? And how did these 27 new students cause the yield to increase from 89% to 91%? A school's "yield" is how many of the admitted applicants end up accepting the school's offer of admission and matriculate. Harvard has long had the highest yield in the industry, wavering only between 89% as a low and 91% as a high for ages and ages (with the exception of one outlier year, the Class of 2012, which our data show was 84% -- unless HBS is going to be restating their numbers of that one, too). The next-highest yielding school is Stanford and they typically only get like 84%, which is still a remarkable number of course. If you get into Stanford, you're likely going to go to Stanford -- unless you also got into HBS, or you go to tell your boss that you're going to bschool and she throws bucketloads of cash at you to get you to stay. Anyway. Back to Harvard and this data update. You sharp-eyed observers will have noted that it's not only the Class of 2015; they also updated the Classes of 2016 and 2017. We do know that for perhaps the first time in a generation, Harvard is feeling pressured from the competition of other MBA programs -- at least, to an extent. There aren't that many schools out there that can really claim to be peers of Harvard. If someone gets into HBS and Kellogg, it's 99% probability they choose HBS, even if Kellogg offers a sh!t-ton of scholarship money. Stanford and Wharton are really only the main players that are true contenders for this same set of applicants. It's never wise to sit on your laurels; there are plenty of case studies being taught at Harvard Business School that caution against hubris and the dangers of myopia that come with a leadership position. Stanford doesn't seem all too concerned about Harvard, though Wharton seems to have made it their mission to become the "best" business school as ranked by the well-known publications. Should Harvard be worried? Is that why they've revisited the numbers they reported and massaged the dataset being published on those recent classes? Who knows what's going on behind the scenes or where these newly-discovered students came from. Harvard is making a big push with their HBS Online initiative (formerly called HBX CORe) which is a real money-maker for the school. We've even had to comment on some questionable messaging they've used: https://twitter.com/EssaySnark/status/1069986689492357120 On the increasing numbers in their historical dataset: Yes, we realize that we could contact HBS admissions and ask what the deal is. But honestly, if you're restating your numbers on something so fundamental to how your organization is run, shouldn’t you at least put a darn asterisk on the page and explain it?
Or maybe nobody is supposedta notice or care.
Dunno. Leaves a bad taste in the mouth though.
We get enough reasons to distrust The Man today. Apparently EssaySnark was living under the illusion that the word “veritas” is supposed to mean something.
Nor, honestly, should you want to do so. Almost every time, what other people write about you (provided that they’ve been appropriately selected for the task) will be oodles more appealing and useful to the adcom – nay, even more POSITIVE and glowing – than what you would come up with about your own bad…
So enough of the philosophical musing about what is ethics and the handwringing about what we should do when faced with massively unethical behavior from a client. Let’s bring this full circle and focus on the practical: In what way will ethics play a part in your MBA applications? Essay Questions First and foremost, we…
Again related to our recent post about an ethical situation we found ourselves in (you don’t need to start with that post but you can if you wish).
After weeks of pondering, the simplest description of the whole category of ethics for us is, “Can I trust you?”
This came about from reading merely the introduction to the book Skin in the Game* by controversial thinker Nassem Nicholas Taleb. (You can read the intro for free in the online preview, which is worthwhile no matter what.)
We’ve come across so many instances of ethics in the real world since considering this incident (in case you are sick of this discussion and wish we’d talk about something else by now… sorry/not sorry. this is interesting for us and we feel wholly relevant to an individual’s existence in the modern era).
The reason why ethics matters is that it helps you make decisions — for yourself, and also decisions on who you want to involve yourself with.
If a company offered you a job with a salary higher than you’ve ever earned, are you going to accept it regardless?
Or are you going to think about what that company does, and consider the value that it brings into the world?
Here’s one piece of seriously disturbing data from a survey of programmers that the site StackExchange conducted :
Perhaps respondents misread the question or were moving too quickly through the survey to think it through. As phrased, it sounds like the question says, “You have already identified that it’s unethical. What do you do?” If you’ve DECIDED that it’s unethical, then that right there is your decision. Isn’t it? You should not be involved in building software — or contributing to any task at work — if you’ve decided that it’s unethical. Yet 36.6% sounded like they were waffling. That maybe they’d go ahead and build it.
Yes we agree, there are a gazillion grey areas, but in this case it’s saying that you’ve DECIDED what the ethics are. Why is the answer then, “It depends”?
The main angle we can see in those 36.6% is that they are being honest and acknowledging that perhaps they might do it anyway. It’s actually likely that a good chunk of the 58.5% saying they would not build it actually would. In the real world, there are tremendous pressures and influences, and dealing with a hypothetical, it’s very easy to claim moralistic purity. If not building the software out of your convictions would cost you your job, we can totally see why it would be hard to stand up and speak out. There’s also the problem of power dynamics. If you’re just one guy (or gal) on the team, and your boss and all your teammates are going along with this, and you understand it to be greenlit and approved from above, then you’re inclined to assume that others have thought through the ethics and have determined that it’s OK to do it. Most people want to assume that they work with others who also are ethical. If you’re the only one perceiving an ethical problem and everyone else is all gung-ho and excited to blast forward with it, it would be very easy to second-guess your own worries and stay silent.
But those are exactly the situations where being brave and speaking up are so important.
Sometimes there is all this momentum in an organization and nobody stops and takes a step back. Everyone assigns the responsibility for moral policing to the overall group, assuming that everyone else has handled that task — yet it’s possible no one has done it. It’s so easy to get blinders on.
It’s like the H&M hoodie ad that came out in January with a picture of an African American boy in a sweatshirt that was just — no. That was so obviously insensitive that some people even assumed it must have been intentional as a way to generate attention for the brand. Because who could have seen that and not noticed how bad it was?
If you’re sitting in a meeting with thoughts of, “Am I crazy? Is nobody else noticing this THING that is wrong here?” then you NEED TO SPEAK OUT.
And you need to put some thought to big questions like this in advance. So that you are prepared and ready to take action if (when) the time comes for such action.
If the first time you’ve ever thought about these difficult situations is in the moment when you’re faced with one for the first time, then it’s likely you will fail to act, out of self-doubt or nervousness or not wanting to be wrong, and lacking confidence to stand up for your ideas. These things matter.
There was a thing on RadioLab about new types of media editing technology that are a little bit freaky in terms of their potential to do harm — but what was even freakier was the completely laissez faire attitude of one of the developers. Here’s direct access to the RadioLab stream if you are interested in hearing the whole piece:
Here’s a demo of an Adobe voice editing app that definitely raises concerns:
It’s basically PhotoShop but for audio.
But the chilling part in the RadioLab segment was where they talked about this technology:
And they interviewed one of the developers in this field, a CS professor at University of Washington named Ira Kemelmacher-Schlizerman (starts around 11:15). And the interviewer was basically asking, “Aren’t you freaked out about what this technology can do?” and the technologist woman answered with a virtual shrug of her shoulders. She said her job is a technologist. That’s it. She was fully unbothered — or she just had never considered the questions or her part in it before. (this specific exchange is around 20:05)
Brave Supplicant, please don’t be like that. In any context of your life, anywhere. That just hurts to hear.
Though honestly, her position of “I’m just a technologist” is probably not unethical.
These are the things that the real intellectuals are debating. It’s where Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg clash (the ethics of AI and how much trouble we’re gonna be in if constraints aren’t put into place, but hey Elon, even if they are, there will be people like this technologist who don’t see it as part of their job to worry about such trivial things as, like, how the tech they’re building can do harm.)
It all just makes the head hurt.
And in the end, we come full circle.
Are all ethical decisions completely personal? Is ethics defined by the individual only?
The technologist with the capacity-to-do-harm software is clearly not bothered. Her ethics say it’s OK.
Granted, there are BIG cultural implications in all of this; what is considered “unethical” varies TREMENDOUSLY based on what part of the world you’re from.
We’re not accusing the technologist of being unethical. We’re looking at stuff.
Any further thoughts coming from all you BSers on these topics? (If not, don’t worry – we’ll be moving along to other things very soon!!!)
*In the first draft of this post, we wrote the title as Sin in the Game which is sort of funny as a Freudian slip. Also: That link has a referral code, if you click it we get like a penny or something if you go on to buy. If you don’t want to make Mr Bezos pay us a penny that way, please just go direct to Amazon and search for the title yourself. You know how it works.
You know how when you learn a new word, then all of a sudden, you hear it everywhere?
Yeah, our experience deliberating on what to do in an ethical issue seemed to summon all sorts of relevant information onto the radar screen of experience. All of the below is related to our recent story about being faced with an ethical issue with a BSer. This is a place for us to capture what are essentially footnotes and references to the deliberation process, so you can see what we considered and a few of the ideas that are forming our views. You’re welcome to also post your own relevant or interesting links and articles that might further the conversation or add a new dimension to our thinking!
The items in this post are all separate and the order is not meant to signify relationship nor importance to each other nor to us. It’s just a bunch ‘o stuff.
The thing that disappoints me is not that people make mistakes — we have all made mistakes, we all live with them. I'm disappointed by a person with a platform and influence preemptively saying "It is not my job to care."
— your friend Helen (@hels) January 25, 2018
(That tweet is the final comment in a lengthy tweetstorm from a restaurant critic responding to other critics who say that a chef or restauranteur’s behavior should not be considered as part of a restaurant review; the entire thread is worth reading.)
So as a ‘Snark with a platform, what is our duty or responsibility?
Academic integrity policy. pic.twitter.com/uWxP1KuUNx
— Academia ɐɹnɔsqO (@AcademiaObscura) February 3, 2018
Long – but fascinating, if you’re into minutiae of government and the crazy things people will do to milk the system! – report from the US ethics office on how a staff planner at the Veterans Administration tried to finagle the system to go along with the VA Director’s request to have the government pay for his wife’s travel so they could attend Wimbledon together.
The New York Times has a Q&A section written by an ethicist; a recent column covered a parallel situation:
“Should I tell on my cheating classmates?” In this case, it was a couple of middle school students cheating on an exam when the teacher was out of the room. One of their friends thought it was wrong and debated whether to say something later, such as to the prestigious high school where these students were admitted. The ethicist put a lot of emphasis on the cost to the whistleblower, and on what type of change to the system might come from telling on the cheaters.
What about you?
Have you read anything recently (or ever) that really struck a chord? Anything that’s stuck with you, about how to live a right life?
We’re eager* to know!!
Update: This conversation on ethics has been continued HERE!
*Some people may have said “dying to know” there — but that’s not a phrase we care for! Please don’t be “dying” for anything — not till you have to, of course!!! Life is about living!
Boy we’ve been doing a lot of thinking on this! Some of you saw our tweet a few months back: https://twitter.com/EssaySnark/status/955934886040281088 And you saw the post that followed where we shared part of our response to the person in question. And you expressed support, and an interest in knowing what happened: https://twitter.com/MissVivienWu/status/955953433730867201 https://twitter.com/arkanian86/status/956291898200686593 And… We…
(Trigger Warning: We’re talking about ETHICS again today. If that just turns your stomach, click away now.) We’ve walked through our stance on ethics and applying in a school’s binding Early Decision round plenty o’ times before on the blahg. (Which isn’t really “our stance.” It’s more like, “This is how a person of honor…
Freeskiing. You know, that thing with skis in the halfpipe where they get major air and do all the flips and corkscrews?
Here’s the video if you missed it.
— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) February 20, 2018
We’ll start by saying THANK YOU! to reader buffalo who offered some comments from first-hand perspective as a long-time skier:
And we totally agree!
This woman has moxie. She’s apparently not a big fan of doing it the way that you’re supposed to do it.
“She’s very motivated, and did very well,” [a professor she RA’ed for] said.
“Motivated” could certainly be one word used to describe Swaney. She ran for governor as a 19-year-old; tried out for the Oakland Raiders cheerleading team; and previously mounted a push to reach the Olympics as a skeleton racer for her mother’s native Venezuela. She started skiing just eight years ago, and only became serious about it after the skeleton thing didn’t take.
(Plus, she got into Harvard!)
Mostly the word that comes to mind about the freeskiing thing is “audacity” – this type of thing would not have happened even 5 or 10 years ago, it seems. Our theory is that it’s the Age of the Individual — where self-promotion is the game on social media and selfies have taken over our lives — that has created the fertile ground for this. It’s not that people have not tried to subvert the system before. It just seems like it’s more socially permissible somehow today.
How about if we back up and look at this through a larger lens?
This American woman was successful in getting a spot at the Olympics through her Hungarian ancestry.
And based on that Globe article, she had tried to do so in skeleton as a Venezuelan.
Knowing this information, does it change your perspective on whether she acted ethically to get into the 2018 Olympics?
Again, comments are open! We would love to know what you think!!