The Ministry of Rites and the Compassionate Man

When I say that William H. Macy and Felicity Huffman and Charles Kushner get the joke, what do I mean?

I mean that they understand that there is one and only one way to ensure that your children are card-carrying members of Team Elite, and that is to enroll them in a prestige university.

Is it the only way to make sure your children are in the club? No. But it is the surest way.

Is it just or good that this is the modern social meaning of higher education, that prestige universities are the dominant credentialing mechanism of mass society in the 21st century? No. But it IS nonetheless.

Will anything about this scandal diminish the credentialing mechanism of prestige universities? Will anything about this scandal change behavior in any way, shape or form? LOL.

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  1. I would describe Rick Singer’s operation as a kind of affirmative action for the 1% – something that allows the merely rich and the nouveau riche to level the playing field with the .1% and its legacy applicants. However, your analogy with ancient China and your somewhat labored effort to shoehorn this scandal into the narrative of the Nudging whatever appears to suggest that the status quo in higher education is an immutable fact of life that we all must learn to live with.

    No so, I think. In fact, this ugly series of events may turn out to be the trigger for an equally ugly process of disruption driven by the necessity of restructuring $1.5 trillion in student debt – a significant part of which can’t be paid and therefore won’t be paid. Don’t be surprised to see the formation of a Joint Congressional Committee on Inequitable Academic Practices which quickly moves beyond admissions to expose the “waste, fraud and abuse” that is endemic to a system that has grown accustomed to zero accountability. Big Ed may never be the same.

  2. What party is going to launch this Joint Congressional Committee? The GOP? They’re going to convene special committees to come to the defense of people who took out $200K to get a Bachelor of Arts in Intersectional Literature from Elite U? The Dems? I suppose you can hang your hat on the theory that the political left will identify the universities - one of their strongest bases of consistent support and the base of their “party of science” claims - as the culprit, but when you can just blame lenders or MMT it?


  3. There are numerous Law graduates saddled with hundreds of thousands of debt who want to know why their slots at elite universities were taken up by less qualified applicants. What better way to start a law career than to seek justice. What is that phrase about a woman being scorned? I think this has legs.

  4. No, Rusty, the GOP will use debt relief as a pretext for launching an investigation into the ideological and cultural predispositions of the academy that have infuriated the Party’s conservatives for decades. And the Dems who would normally rise to Big Ed’s defense will bite their tongues as their constituents make it clear that debt forgiveness takes precedence over ideological solidarity. The outcome will be be debt relief paired with regulation – lots of regulation.

  5. Do you really think 200 FBI agents routinely spend almost a full year on a $25 million fraud case? Can you imagine the kind of hatred the White House harbors for an institution that elevates someone spewing the ad hominem vitriol on display here: The intoxicating brew of academic freedom and tenure has left too many academics with the notion that they are free to make enemies without regard to consequences. There are a lot of unhappy campers out there with stories to tell who will welcome the opportunity to testify at a Congressional hearing. Payback is a bitch – especially when you’re as dependent on the Federal Government as Big Ed is.

  6. Sorry, Christopher, but I think this is movie stuff. You’re asking us to accept as a given, first, that Lori Loughlin’s kid getting into USC is going to be attached in the public’s mind to these other problems with higher ed. The second thing we have to accept as a given is that the GOP will have enough power to launch investigations into private educational institutions while also stipulating that the Dems will simultaneously have enough power to force the issue of student debt relief. All the while, we sort of put the fact that university donors and big campaign donors are nearly perfectly overlapping Venn diagrams to the side?

    I WANT what you want here. I want to end Elite U’s cultural hegemony. I want to diminish all cultural emphasis on signaling. But I fear that trusting in a grand alliance-type solution in this Zeitgeist is just a recipe for disappointment.

  7. It seems to me, ‘elite’ education may be an even more powerful machine than the institution of money for preserving the gains of the privileged. To question the true nature of such education is to question a good part of the personal worth, not just the wealth and power, of members of Team Elite. That will never do!

    Ben is right. Small-time cheats will be punished. It helps maintain the meritocratic mystique. And that’s as far as it will ever go.

  8. The comparison with Imperial China is apt, but we have to keep in mind a fundamental difference between that and our system in general.

    China was a homogeneous country with much more concentrated and streamlined power. When its paper money began to lose the trust of the public, transacting with anything else was made a capital offense. The modern Western system is much more pluralist, where power must be exercised by forming alliances which tend to be more temporary and shifting in nature. In such a world, the elites need more soft power, because they don’t have enough hard power.

    Translated into investment strategy, this means the Western elites themselves will want to burst each bubble eventually. Financial inflation can’t go on forever. The bigger the bubble becomes, the more unsavory the choices facing the elites. And this has pretty much been the history of the modern West.

    The final joke came around 1500 when, after a half millennium of paper money, China saw fit to adopt physical silver as sole currency. That also turned out to be the West began to learn to use monetary ‘engineering’ to scrub wealth from all corners of the world, including China.

  9. Didn’t Sigfried get mauled and killed by a tiger in his show in Vegas?

  10. I’ve railed against both the “privileged class” and the “preferenced class” for years, opposite side of the same coin. Both are anathema to merit and excellence!

    I’m reminded of the increasing number and variety of discrete “set-aside” spaces in parking lots…handicapped (ok…tho the majority of which are unused most of the time…where do they come up with the required number?) spots, EV parking spots, mothers with children spots, purple heart recipient (unnecessary unless so wounded as to be handicapped…then ok by other means) spots, veterans (I’m one) spots, etc. We need look no further than the common parking lot to see one by one our collective loss to un-used/unnecessary set-asides…and why everyone is gaming the system for some form of preference or set-aside.

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