A little learning is a dangerous thing (Alexander Pope) … and it’s expensive, too.
According to one summary of the news "Fifty people—including Hollywood stars, top CEOS, college coaches and standardized test administrators," and eight universities were caught up in various scams, under- the- table deals and outright bribery to get their untalented, vacant offspring into college. They cheated, lied and bought their entrance into the American system of higher education, under the same empty impulses that have some of the very well-to-do splurge on upscale cars and Prada handbags.
One of these parents is an undistinguished mediocrity from a number of numbing television presentations—the best known, Full House, a dreary, treacle "comedy," in comparison with which the one-time hit Saved by the Bell could be considered King Lear. Her name is Lori Loughlin, and now she, with a great number of other worthies, is facing criminal charges of fraud, and perhaps a long- term visit to another house, which is also full but, alas, doesn't have a studio audience. Loughlin is accused of paying half a million dollars to lubricate the enrolment of her daughter, Olivia Jade Giannulli, into the University of Southern California.
The daughter, whom we may firmly dismiss as a budding Madame Curie, is what is now called a "social media influencer" (a category I shall leave unexplored) and judging from some of her posts, which are as numerous as they are vapid, has the intellectual resources of a bumble bee of the drone class but without the compensatory work ethic of that insect.
A hail of irony hangs over Olivia Jade as, on the first week of the classes her mother had spent half a million to allow her to attend, she was instead on a yacht owned by a top University of Southern California official when the news of her mother's indictment in the federal investigation into college admissions fraud came out. She further made it clear that it wasn't dreams of late-night discussions of The Republic, or puzzling the mysteries of quantum physics that was drawing her to higher education. "I don't know how much of school I'm going to attend, but I'm going to go in and talk to my deans and everyone and hope that I can try to balance it all …"—this from her Youtube channel. She continued, "But I do want the experience of game days, partying—I don't really care about school, as you guys all know."
Clearly her idea of university did not coincide with, say, that of Cardinal Newman, who wrote expansively of its civilizational impulses, expansion of the human spirit and the engagement with what a later sage referred to "as the best that has been thought and said." Young Olivia Jade probably thinks, assuming that is a function she is familiar with, if she has heard of the Cardinal at all that he's a rapper, and the best that has been thought or said is to be found exclusively on TMZ and Twitter.
Add all this and it's puzzling why either mother or daughter wanted to get to university at all, since education—which is the sine qua non of university—is the only element neither of them wish to become acquainted with. Olivia Jade wanted the parties and presumably the T- shirts and hoodies with the university's name … like buying luggage for the signature logo, or a pair of sneakers. And she and her mother were willing to pass along half a million dollars and displace a real student to just have the accessories.
That's not the real story here though by a long shot. Nor is the bribery—though that is a full scandal. It is that a university was willing to harlotize itself, admit an incompetent brainless internet hobbit, knowing that she and her mother only wanted university to wear as a logo, a status tag, a prestige trinket.
Universities are not like other institutions—corporations, government. They don't just have ethical boundaries, ethical codes. They are the expositors of ethics. They instruct in why ethics are necessary. They are in the best and true understanding of them, the source pool of all secular thought on why morality and ethics are both necessary and foundational for every given society. Or at least they were. But here—and elsewhere—it has been shown that giddy Hollywoodites, millionaires of any provenance, anxious to add a BA to some mulish offspring, can purchase a university's stamp and prestige in much the same kind of exchange in which Ms. Giannulli and her mother can purchase some upscale brand of shoes.
It leads me to wonder if there is any aspect of university education that isn't open to self-degradation, to the ruin of the once genuine prestige that accompanied graduation from what was always referred to as an "institution of higher learning." In many of today's university offerings, the "higher learning" has long been jettisoned, the politics of grievance, feminism, "white privilege" and the plague of various "studies" their meretricious replacements. In reality these are not studies, but exercises in predetermined and fixed mini- ideologies, meant to ratify "identity," under the iron laws of political correctness.
There is the other plague of shutting down free speech on campus, so- called de- platforming of visiting speakers who offer any point of view other than the ruling consensus, and the craven submission of faculty and administrations to the howling of righteous student activists. Courage and truth are precariously present in today's higher education, and now with the Lori Loughlin example, we can see that honour and fair dealing are having a hard time of it, too. A university degree, under the circumstances that Loughlin and her status- obsessed confrères view it, is in no way to be distinguished from a sales slip.
Rex Murphy, "The worst part of the university scandal." National Post, (Canada) April 27, 2019.
Reprinted with permission of the National Post.
Rex Murphy was host of CBC Radio One's Cross-Country Checkup, a nation wide call-in show, for 21 years before stepping down in September 2015. Murphy is a frequent presence on the various branches of the CBC. He has regular commentary segments entitled "Point of View" on The National, the CBC's flagship nightly news program. See Rex's TV commentaries. In addition, he writes book reviews, commentaries, and a weekly column for the National Post. He is the author of Canada and Other Matters of Opinion and Points of View.Copyright © 2019 National Post
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