Among the many stories to emerge from the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal, the tale of Marjorie Klapper offers an interesting footnote to the narrative of wealth and privilege on the playing fields of a corrupted meritocracy.
Like many parents charged in the scandal, Klapper retained the services of the fraud’s mastermind, Rick Singer, paying him $15,000 to have a proctor for her son’s ACT test correct his answers and boost his score (she had also engaged Singer’s help in boosting her older son’s test scores a few years earlier).
Clearly fearful that even this fraudulent advantage wouldn’t be enough, she also saw to it that her son listed himself as African-American and Hispanic as well as a first-generation college student on his college applications, all of which were lies. “She purposefully sought to portray her son as a minority, and the child of parents who did not attend college, despite the fact that he was neither, because she thought that lie would further bolster his college prospects,” the prosecutors in the case wrote in their sentencing memo. “She thereby increased the likelihood that her fraud would come at the expense of an actual minority candidate, or an applicant who was actually the first in his or her family to attend college.” She was sentenced to three weeks in prison for paying bribes.
Klapper’s behavior comes as less of a surprise when you consider where she lives. Menlo Park, California, is nestled in Silicon Valley, where for the past several years there have been troublingly high suicide clusters at the competitive high schools in the area. The intense pressure placed on kids to get into the right schools is clearly taking its toll on the kids who live there. But it’s also clearly causing some parents to abandon any sense of moral judgment in pursuit of that goal.
Klapper’s case also reveals how easily parents who understand the system can game it using the unfair advantages already baked into the system itself, including advantages based on race. Klapper wasn’t wrong to assume that claiming her son was a minority race would bring him extra advantage. The system is structured to do just that, thanks to decades of affirmative-action programs.
As the lawsuit brought by Asian-American students at Harvard University has thrown into high relief, advantages based on race aren’t just being exploited by entitled parents; they are used by college admissions officers every day to engineer a student body that conforms to vague liberal notions of what a campus should look like. They do so at the expense of students who don’t meet the demands of identity politics or who aren’t considered members of “deserving” minorities.
Klapper’s masquerade also places her among an ignominious group of race hustlers: people like Rachel Dolezal, who “identified” as African-American despite being born white, or actor Jussie Smollett, who continues to insist that everyone believe he was the victim of a violent hate crime despite all evidence to the contrary.
What they all share is an assumption that their fraud will be accepted without much question because it conforms to mainstream (often liberal) opinion about how the system works (against minorities, who should be treated as victims) and assumes that everyone agrees about what should be done to correct for that.
U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling, who thought the three-week sentence given to Klapper was too lenient, said she should have been punished more harshly because she “not only corrupted the standardized testing system, but also specifically victimized the real minority applicants already fighting for admission to elite schools.”
He’s right, but he misses the larger culprit in this case: the system, which uses race as a justification for many specious ideas, such as that the color of your skin determines your ability or that engineered diversity for its own sake is always a good. The problem isn’t that a privileged, entitled parent like Klapper used race as yet another advantage to game the higher-education system for her son (although it is good that she is facing punishment for her crime). It’s that the system itself encourages it.