The Moral Compass and College Admissions Scandal
The college admissions scandal dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues” raises questions about the integrity of the college admissions process across a broad spectrum of institutions. Who’s to blame for the admissions scandal? There’s enough blame to go around but the parents are front and center. Their attempt to get their kids admitted to some of the most prestigious universities in the U.S. through the back door, side door, and every which way smacks of ethical relativism where they have defined what is right and what is wrong for their kids and themselves based on their own sense of morality not commonly-accepted standards such as virtue, fairness, and moral duty.
The operational issues are whether there should be an audit of these processes to ferret out inappropriate decision-making, hold those in charge responsible, and develop internal controls so what happened in the recent scandals never occurs again.
What is the real cause of the admissions scandal and parents’ role? It’s due to ethical blind spots. Ethical blind spots are obstacles that prevented the parents from seeing the ethical issues. They simply acted in their own selfish interests rather than a responsible way. We could attribute it to insensitivity to the ethical issues, which is true. We could say they lacked the inherent skills to think through the admissions scandal issue thoughtfully, which is also true.
However, what it really gets down to is the no consequences society we live in today. Yes, thankfully, the offending parents have been caught and penalties await them. But, in general all too many people ask: Why should they be ethical when it seems so many in society break the rules and nothing happens to them.
Why is this occurring now with alarming frequency? The answer is we have morphed into a society where each of us define our own ethical values. Right and wrong is situational rather than based on time-honored moral principles like honesty, integrity, respect, and personal responsibility.
Let’s hope the outcome of the scandal is a thorough scrubbing of the admission process. Last week Duke University announced it is auditing the last several years of its admissions in the wake of the admissions scandal. We need more universities to do the same. Beyond that, each university should form a select group of professors to serve on an admissions review committee to build checks and balances into the system. Also, there should be an ethics code solely for the admissions process.
The sad part of the admissions scandal is some students who deserved to be admitted may not have been because of the favored treatment of those with money to bribe key players and get their kid admitted, oftentimes to the most prestigious academic institutions in the U.S. Those who played by the rules were not allowed to play on a level playing field. Fairness for all gave way to cheating by some: those with money and the connections.
The admissions cheating scandal is a commentary on what’s wrong with society today. Believing we can get ahead by knowing the right people, bribing those with decision-making influence -- and not through hard work and playing by the rules – and having no conscience about these matters.
The bottom line is we have lost our moral compass.