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Key Takeaways From Netflix’s ‘Operation Varsity Blues’

Updated: Jun 15

Whimsical collage of money on fire with a vintage woman behind it

If you have a chance to watch Netflix’s “Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal,” you really should. We all know the gist of what happened, but the documentary sheds so much light on the details.

And because there were countless wiretaps involved, you actually hear the conversations that were being had! If you’re curious, here were my biggest takeaways (all 100% my opinion, obviously, not making legal assertions here!):

1. The parents absolutely knew what they were doing was wrong.

Because colleges extract SO MUCH MONEY from parents each year, part of me wanted to say, “Did these parents really know what they were doing was wrong? Yeah, they made huge ‘donations’ to wherever (as they saw it), but a donation doesn’t guarantee anything.”

That’s not what happened.

Parents were paying thousands to have someone take the SAT in their child’s name, paying for their kid’s faces to be Photoshopped onto the bodies of athletes…Nothing about this is normal.

And when they thought the feds were snooping around, they even had conversations about how they’d claim the money was for “underprivileged kids,” rather than bribing proctors and coaches…

Liars and cheats. There’s no doubt in my mind that they knew what they were doing was wrong.

2. The universities (not just the coaches) need to bear responsibility.

The universities involved were quick to shift the blame to the coaches, and yeah, the coaches obviously played a huge role in this.

But based on the documentary, it seems like a number of authority figures at these institutions were aware of what was going on (and were accepting payments). The universities also profited enormously from these so-called “donations,” and one of the lawyers made a great point that victims and bystanders don’t usually walk away millions the richer.

As the Latin goes, cui bono? It’s an old adage that by following the money, you can usually find out who’s responsible.

Certainly, many parties stood to gain – Singer, the parents (in the form of admissions), the coaches…but the universities also profited. Sometimes more than the coaches!

In the case of John Vandemoer, you have a guy who didn’t personally profit (unlike the other coaches). Singer basically told him, “We’d like to donate to the Stanford sailing program, and in the future, we’ll send you some kids to consider.”

Shady? Yeah, but he ran it by his boss, who gave him a pat on the back for garnering a big donation (at least according to him and the documentary).

When the scandal broke, Vandemoer lost everything. He was arrested, fired, lost his home (because he lived on campus), his kids lost their daycare (because it was through Stanford), he had to pay a $10,000 fine, serve 6 months on house arrest and two years of probation.

How’s Stanford doing? Just fine, last I checked. The word “patsy” comes to mind…

3. Can I, in good conscience, work in this industry?

If you listened to the season 2 finale of the Vocabbett podcast, you know that I plan (planned?) to expand Vocabbett into more general college counseling.

I start UCSD’s college counseling program in one week, but truthfully, I’ve always been conflicted about it.

First of all, it’s just not my passion the way vocabulary and history are. And now this? Do I want to give more money to the UC system? Do I want to spend my days furthering this corrupt framework?

Honestly, I don’t know.

If you watch the documentary or have additional thoughts, definitely let me know what you think!

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