Operation Varsity Blues – what happens in India, happens in US too

The University of Southern California is pictured in Los Angeles, California, U.S., May 22, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo.

NEW YORK – Desis all over the world, not just in India, would have been struck by the most talked about national story in the United States this week: the biggest college admissions cheating scandal, which is more like popular culture back home.

This kind of stuff is ingrained into the subconscious of most desis what with Bollywood films like ‘Munna Bhai MBBS’ still providing crass humor; making it seem for some more of a blasé comedy than a scam.

Federal investigators dubbed their investigation of the admissions scam in eight top universities ‘Operation Varsity Blues’.

That investigation has led to at least 50 rich and influential people, including Hollywood stars and top industry CEOs, of being accused of participating in a scheme to cheat on admissions tests and admit favored students as athletes, regardless of whether they even participated in the sport they were being admitted to, reported CNN.

The relatives of one applicant paid $1.2 million to have the applicant falsely described as the co-captain of a well-known California soccer team, although the applicant did not play competitive soccer. Some others were taken as part of rowing teams, but had never rowed.

Blaming parents and other defendants, and not students, prosecutor US Attorney Andrew Lelling of Massachusetts pointed out perhaps the most tragic part of the story: “For every student admitted through fraud, an honest, genuinely talented student was rejected.”

That might be a question a lot of desi students – those who had applied, and not got admission at one of the eight universities, might be asking of themselves. Do those students feel better now, justified finally why they didn’t make the cut, or do they feel worse, even more dejected, for missing out on no fault of theirs?

Indian American and some other Asian-origin students who had dream SAT scores and other top notch academic credentials, must be feeling doubly aggrieved that not only were they up against Affirmative Action, and other unfair criteria of admissions like favorability to children and siblings of alumni, and quota for the rich and famous – including former presidents who got into Ivy League – but this scandal was another way to block them out for a shot at the upper echelons of life.

Penny M. Venetis, a clinical professor of law at Rutgers Law School, where she is the director of the Human Rights Clinic, writing in the Star-Ledger, pointed out that the scandal also revealed that accused parents also abused accommodations meant for students with dyslexia and other learning differences. Several parents had their children tested by corrupt specialists who concocted learning disabilities so the students could take the college entrance exams in more relaxed settings, where “fake students” were used to actually take the exams.

Anger and frustration is likely to increase in the days and weeks to come. It’s already begun with a class-action lawsuit against the eight universities by two students who are enrolled, but enraged by the damage done to their credibility. They may be joined by tens of thousands of other students, who feel cheated and neglected.

On Thursday, two Stanford college students sued the eight top universities for $5 million in damages, reported CNBC. The lawsuit by Erica Olsen and Kalea Woods accuses each of the universities of being “negligent in failing to maintain adequate protocols and security measures in places to guarantee the sanctity of the college admissions process.”

The lawsuit says that as a result of the scheme “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.”

Defendants in the lawsuit are Yale University, the University of Southern California, Stanford University, UCLA, the University of San Diego, the University of Texas, Wake Forest University and Georgetown University. Federal prosecutors have said the schools were victims of the scam.

Part of the suit says that because of the scandal the plaintiff’s degree is now not worth as much as it was before, because prospective employers may now question whether she was admitted to the university on her own merits, versus having parents who were willing to bribe school officials, reported CNBC.

One of the universities has been quick to try cap further damage.

University of Southern California announced that applicants who are connected to the admissions cheating scheme will be denied admission, and a case-by-case review will be conducted for students who are already enrolled at USC and may be connected to the scheme, reported CNN.

For immigrants, Operation Varsity Blues underlined another fact which is kind of lost in the huge rumble and din that’s followed: the boldness and fairness of the prosecution system in America.

Recently, a lot of hue and cry, including by the Indian government, was raised over the prosecution of more than 100 Indian students who allegedly gamed the legal immigration system to enroll into a ‘fake’ university, the University of Farmington, located in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan. Reportedly, eight recruiters were also arrested in the ‘pay to stay’ scandal.

The fact of the matter is sting operations and criminal investigations are helping to cleanse the education system in the US, make it as free of corruption as possible.

Meanwhile, in India, come exam time, cheating scams remain unabated.

Earlier this month, in Gujarat, a question paper was found being photocopied in Junagadh and 21 cases of students copying in the exams were recorded on day one of the class 10th and 12th board exams in the state, reported The Indian Express.

Last year a total of 213 cheating cases were reported all over India in the CBSE exams for the same board exams, reported The Times of India. Guwahati in Assam topped the nefarious act with 84 such cases.

It’s anybody’s guess how many cheating cases to get admission in college goes unreported, in India and the US.

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: sujeet@newsindiatimes.com Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)



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