There’s not much more that hasn’t already been written about the college admissions cheating scandal (“Bribing your way to college,” Reuters, Mar. 14). However, one thing does merit further consideration.
It’s Campbell’s Law. More than 30 years ago, Donald Campbell, an eminent social scientist, warned about the danger of measuring ability by any single influential metric. He said that the more any quantitative indicator is used for decision-making, the more it will be subject to corruption and the more it will corrupt the very process it is intended to monitor.
As long as scores on the SAT and ACT are given so much weight by admissions officers, they will invariably create an atmosphere that serves as an incentive to cheat. For example, in 2011, in what The New York Times called “one of the most conspicuous cheating scandals in memory,” five students from prominent and respected families in Great Neck, N.Y. received as much as $3,600 to take SAT and ACT tests for students with undistinguished records. They were charged with felonies, while the 15 accused of paying them faced misdemeanor charges.
The irony is the SAT was originally supposed to be a way that merit – not parentage – would be the basis for admission to college. At least that was what James Bryant Conant, then president of Harvard, intended when he supported the test. But over the years, his vision was corrupted. The history was laid out in detail in “The Big Test” by Nicholas Lemann in 1999.
As long as cutthroat competition exists for admission to elite colleges and universities, I see little hope for significant change. Money in one form or another will always play a dominant role in who is accepted. We can eliminate legacy preferences and development cases, but money speaks louder than anything else.
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