College admissions scandal follows Gospel of Wealth
In the recent college admissions scandals, the United States appears to be reliving the Gilded Age of the late 19th century in which the wealthy were spiritually supported by churches and pastors promoting the Gospel of Wealth.
The message is clear: To be is to have, and to have is to be.
Parents committed a horrendous crime in their willingness to pay exorbitant sums to have the most prestigious universities admit their unqualified children.
But the true crime here is that of passing their values on to their children.
The values their children likely inherited from their parents’ criminal actions may have instilled a belief that they did not have to work to earn entrance into a university. They learned that what was important was the university’s reputation and the chance to network with young men and women from other families of wealth.
Their parents never understood the real goal of education.
The Latin root of education is educere, “to lead out of as from darkness to light, from ignorance to knowledge.” Their children probably do not understand that education is rooted in the soul of humankind — that to be human is to be a creator as well as a creature of our community; that the conditions of our own humanity are the conditions of humanity as a whole; that we are no freer than the least free among us; and that our well-being is dependent upon the well-being of others.
For the past several years, I have served with honor on a committee at St. Mary’s University that selects 14 graduating seniors to receive the prestigious Presidential Award. The honor comes in reading about the 90 students whose academic, on-campus and community accomplishments demonstrate their commitment to personal achievement and a responsibility to be creators of more just and less violent community.
Those caught up in the admissions scandal could learn from the examples set by these students.
Many are the first in their families to go to college, come from families in poverty and attend St. Mary’s because of their parents’ values and sacrifice to give their children a quality education.
These students entered St. Mary’s University because they earned full academic scholarships. I would like to share a few of their stories:
“As a first generation, low income, Chicana college student with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), I was faced with many challenges throughout my undergraduate years. I was raised by my grandmother, a woman who had to drop out of school at the age of 10 and who swam from Mexico to the United States as a teenager. I came to St. Mary’s afraid that I wasn’t smart enough to succeed. The St. Mary’s community, faculty and staff made sure that I felt validated in the classroom and on campus. As a philosophy major, I was part of the McNair Scholars Program presenting my research at academic conferences. What I value from my time at St. Mary’s is how I was taught and shown how to care for others.”
“I decided to attend St. Mary’s University when I visited campus and heard the testimony of a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) student. I knew right then that the St. Mary’s community would support me. My first semester of college was tough because my mom was deported. I was sad and worried about the situation at home. As a first-generation student, I felt lost. The St. Mary’s community quickly supported me. The community taught me how to have faith by loving myself and others. While at St. Mary’s, I started a nonprofit organization to empower women to reach gender equality. I became passionate about advocacy work for immigration rights. My experience the past four years means more than just earning a degree. It has meant self-transformation.”
“My father grew up in a small, very poor colonia in Mexico City. He grew up selling Chiclets on the side of the road and fixing radios and televisions in a little cardboard shack. During my first year at St. Mary’s, I started and maintained a Get Out the Vote campaign. My strategy was formed in a Marianist way emphasizing the common engagement charism. St. Mary’s has shown me that I should not look out only for my own interest, but that I have a duty to the community. St. Mary’s gave me the chance to intern as a summer consulting analyst in business. The business offered me a full-time job. I will always be involved with the disadvantaged in my community.”
“I am in the Master of Jurisprudence program. I am dyslexic. I also have an incredibly supportive little boy and husband who has been fighting stage 3 mucosal melanoma since 2016. I have found the entire community at St. Mary’s invested in my success as a student, wife, mom and professional. I have been, when necessary, given permission to take finals at my husband’s hospital bedside. St. Mary’s is part of my ‘no excuses’ story. It’s about doing hard things in hard times with the help of others, because life will be awesome again. And St. Mary’s is preparing me for that ‘awesome.’”
These students and many more worked very hard to earn entrance to a university where they have grown to understand the importance of balancing a profession and faith.
One final experience I would like to share with the parents involved in the admission scandals is an interview I had in the summer of 1987 with human rights advocate Herbert Ernesto Anaya in San Salvador.
This was at the height of El Salvador’s civil war. He was an advocate of nonviolence following the examples of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and his Christian faith. During the course of the interview, he said he had received death threats from the military and the rebels. Neither side believed in nonviolence and considered him a threat.
The United States was not accepting political asylum applications from El Salvador at this time, so I asked him if he had considered applying for asylum in Canada.
Herbert said no, that someone needed to be “a voice for nonviolence and human rights in the midst of civil war.”
I said, “Herbert, you have a wife and two small children. What will they be left with if you are assassinated?”
He looked at me as though I had asked a ridiculous question. “They will be left with my values.”
In October 1987, I opened a copy of the New York Times and saw a photograph and article about of his assassination. He had just dropped off his children at school. He left them with his values. What a gift they received.
How tragic when the parents involved in the admissions scandal appeared to have taught their children a very different value: to have is to be, and to be is to have.
Larry Hufford, Ph.D., is a professor of political science and international relations at St. Mary’s University.