A Riddell for Universities to Solve
Harvard Alumni Manipulates Test Scores of Prospective Students
By GRAHAM WALTER
Mark Riddell was one of the individuals responsible in the college admission scandal. He pleaded guilty to fraud and money laundering in front of a judge and is being forced to surrender the money he made and spend years in prison. Mark Riddell crime was helping dozens of high school students cheat on their college entrance exams.
Riddell was instrumental in helping around 20 families achieve inflated scores on their ACT and SATs; Rick Singer, the mastermind behind the scheme paid Riddell $10,000 per test to fly from his home in Florida to test centers in Texas and California. There, the Harvard graduate would “secretly take the exams in place of actual students” according to his testimonial. He would even go so far as to mimic the hand writing of his clients’ children. In other cases, such as the case with actress Felicity Huffman’s, he would alter test answers to achieve a higher score. Singer would be in charge of bribing gatekeepers to allow Riddell to aid clients, adding an additional 400 points to some scores.
Riddell is a Harvard graduate, and when I first read that, I did not see this as a reflection of my University or myself. When the news about Riddell first broke, however, I was on the phone with a family friend who asked me what I thought about my “friend.” I did not know Riddell, but because we both have associations with Harvard, we are inevitably grouped. So how does this affect us as Harvard students? Well on the surface, it shouldn’t. Riddell is obviously a very smart man, good test taker, and was likely qualified for a Harvard as any other graduate is. Where did he start to lose his sense of honor and value in replace of money? Did the Harvard Honor Council not teach him better than that?
According to the Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Rosen, Mr. Riddell’s began his scheme in 2011. This crime, one that he may serve up to 20 years for, led him to Canada, San Francisco, Houston and Los Angeles. Riddell typically corrected students’ answers, but also was active in the sports recruiting scheme. If his actions went on for 7 years and with children of people who are in the public eye, does this shed light into how susceptible top tier institutions are to cheating? Furthermore, does this type of behavior force a change in the future of admissions? What Mr. Riddell did was reprehensible, and it would be ridiculous to question the importance we give to standardized testing based upon this group’s actions, but it does bring into view the beast that is the American educational system.
Another recent indictment was with Laura Janke, who was an assistant coach for women’s soccer at the University of Southern California. Her role was to designate children as athletic recruits that would help in their admissions process. To go a step further, people like Ms. Janke would artificially create athletic profiles on these fake student athletes, creating fake honors and positions on elite teams.
Actions that have been taken by people outside of the admissions process lead to conversations of using a more objective and informed resource for determining who is accepted into certain institutions. With all types of data on the internet, from high school sports to awards to social media accounts, artificial intelligence could be easily utilized by admission committees to help do their fact checking and cross comparisons. There has been a crop of startups that help provide students with where they think they should attend college, but with AI becoming more and more advanced, it may be possible to let machines have a say in the confirmation process as well.
Something that the AI industry has been failing to formulate, however, is fairness and morality. The attempt to minimize bias is something that will likely inherently clash with other’s definitions at some point and making an unassuming robot may be impossible. The admissions process as a whole is quite subjective to admissions officers and while most of the decision making is likely correct, it is impossible to know the number of times when students who were less qualified than others got a spot over someone who may have deserved it more.
While the future of college admissions is being shaped now, both between the Harvard affirmative action court case and the prevalence of bribery among the wealthy elite coming to light, there is bound to be some reform in how the admission process works. For many, attending elite institutions is something that offers the idea of completeness. There would not be jokes about double legacy if gaining a double legacy didn’t offer one’s children a higher chance of getting into an overly competitive university.
Graham Walter ’21 (firstname.lastname@example.org) hopes he and his peers aren’t defined by the actions of those past.