Pretend Philanthropy Powers Privilege

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I guess this is one of those moments which exemplify the idea of chickens coming home to roost. We didn’t know federal law enforcement agencies were investigating a scheme they called “Operation Varsity Blues” where the wealthy and privileged decided that all of the advantages they had amassed were not enough. They had to ensure that their kids had access to the biggest brand names in higher education, and they were willing to pay for this guarantee.

And I mean pay a lot.

William Singer realized that there was a market for those with wealth who were willing to pay an insurance policy which would guarantee successful admittance into the right colleges, you know, the places folks go crazy about because of their high US News rankings. Singer became a broker of sorts, either finding people to take entrance exams for privileged kids too “intellectually unable” to benefit from the thousands of dollars mommy and daddy spent on test tutors and admissions coaches, as well as paying off test proctors to ensure these surrogates could do their work, or he found coaches willing to earn a few bucks by recruiting students with no proficiency in their sport to play their sport. Genius.

Many Americans have railed against affirmative action programs because they supposedly deny spots to qualified students, allowing students from disadvantaged backgrounds an opportunity to take advantage of the resources available at the elite institutions, when in actually rich folks simply bought their way in. I call it affluence advantage. We all knew this was happening, but it was okay for the anti-affirmative action crowd because it was all on the low. But now it is out in the open, I don’t want to ever hear about affirmative action again.

But here is the real issue. Too many of the wealthy, under the guise of philanthropy, have given these institutions millions of dollars under some guise that they were supporting a greater good. In actuality, the elite institutions are deemed as such mostly because of their wealth and privilege. They can select the best students, who have the best scores because they are from the best neighborhoods with the best schools because their families have wealth, and those families have typically attended the elite institutions and are willing to reinvest in those schools not for a greater good, but to ensure the privilege is perpetuated for their families.

So they actively provide the petrol of privilege if you will. A review of the major gifts to higher education during fiscal 2017 shows the schools involved (so far — the number of shoes that will drop would out Imelda Marcos to shame) are those at the top of the lists for the amounts raised. The University of Texas raised $304 million. UCLA $550 million. Yale $595 million. Stanford $1.1 billion.

Southern Cal raised $668 million. Can’t you see now why I questioned Dr. Dre’s $35 million gift a few years ago? New students at USC are more likely to come straight outta Cameo Shores than Compton.

It usually works fine. All the privilege wealth brings makes it easy for those kids to get into the elite institutions without issue. But when the kid is not so bright, or really doesn’t care, so much so that they can’t get in on their own merit, you simply buy their seat.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of hard working students who were not born into wealth and privilege struggle to pay for college. In fact, many don’t graduate not because of their ability but because of their finances. As a nation there is no return on an investment by giving an obscenely wealthy university tens of millions of dollars so that some rich, desperate housewife can get her daughter into school. She’s going to be fine; she has generational wealth on her side.

If philanthropists would pledge today not to give a single dollar to any institution with at least a half a billion dollar endowment as a start, and give instead to small schools that educate students that actually look like America economically (as well as racially), we would begin to transform families and communities, reducing the need for costly social services. We would begin to create generational wealth in places that have never had any, thereby strengthening our nation.

There should be no more illusions of merit. Wealth trumps it every time. I still believe that there are many wealthy people who want to make a greater difference, leave a real legacy, and invest in America. Major gifts to the elites do none of that; it is a waste of money, point blank.

So if you or someone you know is looking for a $50 million, $100 million, or even $250 million transformational investment opportunity, I can arrange that immediately.

Call me.

Written by

7th president of Dillard University

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