Sorry for the recent hiatus! Those darned computer problems!
Luckily, although today’s subject is based on a news story more than a week old, it will be incredibly timely for as long as the problem it describes is with us. Simply put, Reuters has reported – complete with devastating evidence – that China is corrupting the U.S. college admissions process. And the findings should prompt Americans and especially their leaders to start asking much more searching questions about the People’s Republic’s growing role in the nation’s economy and society than they’ve been posing so far.
As is no doubt known by anyone who’s sent a kid to college lately (or who keeps up with China-related developments), the population of students from the PRC on American college and university campuses has been surging for years. China’s nouveaux riches and Communist Party leaders (two classes with lots of overlap) increasingly want to give their kids the benefit of an American education. And since they’re able to pay full freight, American higher education has been only to happy to welcome them.
This practice has disturbing enough overtones – especially when you find it in taxpayer-supported public institutions. But assuming that the Chinese students involved meet a school’s academic standards, or come close, it’s not outright corrupt – at least no more so than the longstanding admission of children of wealthy actual or prospective American donors or influential alumni even when they’d otherwise be uncompelling candidates.
As the Reuters investigation shows, however, at least one Chinese “education company” has paid thousands of dollars in perks or cash to admissions officers at top U.S. universities “to help students apply to American schools.” The perks consisted of travel expenses for “workshops” held in China to advise students whose families are clients of Shanghai-based Dipont Education Management Group “on how to successfully apply to U.S. colleges.”
In theory, that can be excused. (Although one Boston University researcher quoted in the article claimed that such behavior, too, raises major ethical problems.) But not the payments – which consisted of “honoraria” for attendance that went right into the pockets of U.S. admissions officers, which amounted to $4,500 per head in the last two years, and typically in the form of hundred-dollar bills.
Moreover, the seven schools that have confirmed that their employees have been on the take from China aren’t only or even mostly smaller private institutions that, especially since the Great Recession, have been struggling financially. They’re Carleton College, Hamilton College, Lafayette College, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Tulane University, the University of Vermont, and the University of Rochester.
In addition, the following schools declined to comment or did not respond at all about the travel expenses or the honoria when contacted by Reuters about the article’s allegations: Davidson College, Wesleyan University, Claremont McKenna College, Colorado College, Harvey Mudd College, Syracuse University, and Texas Christian University.
Nothing reported by Reuters about the Chinese practices should surprise any knowledgeable readers. After all, a perfect storm of skyrocketing national wealth, the Communist Party’s monopoly on political power, and the millennia-old absence of rule of law has produced in China a society that arguably is the most corrupt in contemporary history. Nor should it be news that the United States is full of individuals, organizations, and institutions that are happy to play along.
Here’s what Americans should be asking, though: Given the undeniable reality of systemic Chinese corruption, why are any Chinese organizations permitted any contact with the admissions offices of any American institutions of higher learning? Indeed, given Chinese corruption and the importance of fund-raising in U.S. higher education, why are any Chinese organizations permitted any contact with any American colleges or universities that may have an impact on admissions.
And, as suggested, the main reason for barring the Chinese has nothing to do with the supposed purity of American morals. Instead, it’s a matter of recognizing how extensively home-grown pollution has already stained this supposedly meritocratic system, and wondering why a well-known foreign source of corruption needs to be invited in.
In fact, the same question should be raised about China’s growing economic footprint in the United States (on top of crucial national security and economic concerns). For any Chinese actor large enough to consider buying into America has surely succeeded at least in part due to its mastery of the country’s kleptocratic politics. Does business in the United States really need immense new injections of graft and cronyism from abroad?
Openness to foreign individuals, organizations, capital, goods, technology, cultures, and other influences unquestionably has been a tremendous boon to the United States throughout its history (and a decisive one when it comes to immigration). But not all foreign countries are created equal, and the example of China strongly suggests that some systems are at best incompatible with and at worst dangerous to America’s well being. China’s undermining of U.S. higher education’s integrity signals loud and clear that the actual downside of permitting Chinese participation is already outweighing any conceivable benefits – and that more wide-ranging official U.S. discrimination is needed in order to choke off similar Chinese threats in other spheres of American life.