Admissions scandal unfolds amid cynicism about moral values
By DAVID CRARY
AP National Writer
Friday, March 15
NEW YORK (AP) — In some ways, the college-admissions bribery scheme newly revealed by federal prosecutors seemed almost inevitable. Ethics experts say Americans these days are barraged with accounts of corruption, greed and amoral behavior to the point that many likely wonder, “Why should I play by the rules?”
Whether it’s gaming the system to secure entry to an elite college, or circumventing laws and ethical norms to evade taxes, swindle customers or pocket illicit gains, unethical behavior has always been among America’s national pastimes. Yet a strong case can be made that this moment is distinctive, with its constant stream of high-profile scandals entangling bankers, drug companies, sports organizations, government officials and others.
“There’s a rawer pursuit of opportunities and benefits than there once was,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University. “It was always there, but now it’s broader, and there are elements of society that once responded to social and professional restraints that no longer do so.”
The admissions scandal, as outlined this week by federal authorities, is the biggest such scam ever prosecuted by the Justice Department. Fifty people were charged in a scheme in which wealthy parents allegedly paid an estimated $25 million in bribes to college coaches and other insiders to get their children into elite schools.
“I don’t think anyone is shocked that children of the wealthy have an easier time getting into top schools,” said Nick Smith, a philosophy professor at the University of New Hampshire. “The deck is stacked in their favor, even if they can’t quite directly buy their way in.”
“What is new here is that all of those considerable advantages apparently aren’t enough for some and they will go to any length to directly buy their way in,” Smith said. “It’s like the veneer of fairness is cracking all around us, and corruption is increasingly on the surface of our most esteemed institutions.”
Some rule-breakers get caught, of course. Martin Shkreli, who provoked outrage with a 5,000 percent hike in the price of a vital drug, is serving a seven-year sentence in federal prison for securities fraud. Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, faces prison time for concealing his foreign lobbying work, laundering millions of dollars, and coaching witnesses to lie on his behalf.
However, public cynicism about America’s moral standards is high, as evidenced in the annual Values and Morals poll conducted by Gallup since 2002. In the latest poll, released last June, a record high 49 percent of respondents rated moral values in the U.S. as poor, and only 14 percent rated them excellent or good.
The perception that unethical behavior is increasingly commonplace could have a snowball effect, says Andrew Cullison, a philosophy professor who heads DePauw University’s Prindle Institute for Ethics.
“People think that if moral standards have eroded, why should they play by the rules,” he said. “If they’ve lost trust in some entity or institution, then that organization has lost the right to their compliance with the rules.”
Cullison said President Trump and his administration may be contributing to those perceptions with their departure from some longstanding ethical norms. Trump, for example, has refused to release his tax returns, as other recent presidents did, and has neither divested his business holdings or placed them in a blind trust.
“It’s the objective truth that norms of conduct are being violated,” Cullison said. “Where people differ is how outraged they are. If you’re getting what you want (in terms of policy), you’ll be more willing to look the other way.”
Jordan Libowitz, a spokesman for the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, noted that several of Trump’s Cabinet appointees have been the subject of ethics investigations
“We’re seeing a pattern of not caring about ethics that we’ve not seen before,” Libowitz said. “It sets a dangerous precedent for future administrations, that once ethical norms are pushed aside and nothing is done about it, this might become the new normal.”
Libowitz said Congress could take new steps to tighten ethical standards for the executive branch, updating and strengthening some of the reforms enacted in the post-Watergate era of the late 1970s.
Congress has its own image problems. A Gallup poll in December asked respondents in the U.S. to rank 20 different occupations in terms of their ethical standards — members of Congress ranked the lowest, below car salespeople and telemarketers. Nurses were at the top.
College administrators, teachers and coaches weren’t part of the Gallup poll. But Robert M. Franklin, a professor of moral leadership at Emory University in Atlanta, said the admissions scandal should be a catalyst for substantive reforms throughout higher education, including auditing of admissions procedures by outside accreditation agencies.
“This is revealed as hardworking, bright students of color, women and immigrants are benefiting from smart affirmative action policies that correct past injustice and exclusion,” Franklin said in an email. “Now, we must all question whether the scions of affluent white parents gamed the system to ensure admission for their average offspring.”
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College cheating scandal shows why elite colleges should use a lottery to admit students
March 13, 2019
Author: Natasha Warikoo, Associate Professor of Education, Harvard University
Disclosure statement: Natasha Warikoo does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Many Americans are outraged by the college admission scandal revealed by the FBI on March 12. The scandal involves celebrities and wealthy investors who allegedly bought their children’s way onto college sports teams and cheated to improve their children’s SAT and ACT scores. Of course, the regular college admissions system also favors the children of wealthy families when it comes to elite colleges.
As an expert on college admissions, I’d like to suggest a simple solution that would make the process more fair: an admissions lottery.
The lottery I envision would involve applicants who meet a certain academic threshold and help universities admit students in a more equitable way. An admissions lottery would accomplish two important goals.
1. Acknowledge the advantage for the wealthy
The most fair thing elite colleges can do is to acknowledge that selection inevitably favors those with resources. Indeed, the more selective colleges are, the more privileged the students admitted are.
An admission lottery would send a clear message that admission is significantly based on chance, not just merit. Even the extensive analyses by top economists both for and against Harvard in an affirmative action lawsuit against the school could not predict the admissions outcomes of one in four applicants.
In other words, even when you build a statistical model that includes everything from an applicant’s grades and SAT scores to their parents’ professions, what state they live in and many other factors, it’s hard to understand admission decisions. This suggests more chance is involved than most people think.
The current admissions process suggests to students who get into Harvard, Yale, the University of Southern California or other desirable schools that they deserved their spot exclusively on their own merits – that is, despite their parents’ wealth, whether their parents attended the school and any advantages stemming from the high schools they attended coming into play.
But that is simply not the case. It is well established that those who get into elite schools come from wealthier, better-educated families than teens in the U.S. overall. They also tend to more frequently be white or Asian. So unless society believes that merit is not evenly distributed across the population, pretending that admissions is meritocratic makes it seem like elite students are more worthy than those who are disadvantaged, when the reality is they just had more advantages.
2. Save time and money
An admissions lottery would save universities incredible resources. For instance, at Harvard, a 40-person committee of full-time, paid admissions officers votes together on each of the tens of thousands of applicants to Harvard College.
If qualified students were entered into a lottery, the university could simply pick names out of an electronic “hat,” so to speak, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in hours of work. There could be similar savings for other universities as well.
A lottery would also save parents and teens countless hours of time and money and eliminate a lot of stress as they try to navigate an increasingly competitive admissions system. College admissions has led many high school students to strive toward ever-tougher standards of excellence in academics as well as extracurriculars. This leads to unhealthy levels of stress and anxiety for increasing numbers of teens.
I’m not suggesting that the application process be scrapped altogether. Instead, universities should carefully reflect on what qualities they seek in students. One reasonable quality would be a basic level of academic achievement, such that a student – with the supports available on campus – will be able to handle the academic expectations of the university.
In order to ensure all young people have a shot, these expectations and supports should accommodate top students from high schools around the country, including the neediest communities with the fewest resources. Selective colleges could commit to meeting the educational needs to top students from all high schools, regardless of those students’ SAT scores or other measures that compare them to peers from other, more resource-rich schools.
The first steps
Some colleges might be reluctant to be the first to adopt an admissions lottery. Those colleges should consider how colleges like Bates and Bowdoin became the first to go test-optional when it comes to the SAT, long before hundreds of other colleges did. Even so, these schools achieved greater diversity and kept their graduation rates about the same.
On the other hand, if lots of colleges were to switch to an admissions lottery, they together might develop a “match” system, similar to the system that places medical school students in their residency programs. Students would first be sorted into their first-choice colleges, and then the pool of those students who reach the eligibility bar would be entered into a lottery to select students. After the first choices are made, lotteries for second choices would happen, and so on. This system would also alleviate the cost to families associated with students applying to increasing numbers of colleges, which also drives up the cost of evaluating the applicants.
The struggle over college admissions has led to increasing costs, anxiety among American teens, and unfair perceptions of merit being the exclusive domain of elites. And, as the cheating scandal shows, it has led to corruption. These situations can be avoided if colleges take bold steps toward an admissions lottery.
Editor’s Note: This is an updated version of an article originally published on Jan. 8, 2019.
Canine Cancers Linked to Lawn Care Chemicals
Kate Harveston March 13, 2019
Most dogs love being free to run in the yard, especially if they’ve spent all day inside. It’s good exercise for them, but unfortunately, it could also but hurting them too.
Could your yard — or your neighbors’ — be killing your dog?
Many homeowners use fertilizers to give their yard a bright green hue. The same fertilizers that keep grass healthy and thriving may also be hurting animals, including our pets. The effect may not be immediately obvious, but the chemicals create lasting health problems once ingested or absorbed by animals.
Read on to learn more about how canine cancers have been linked to lawn care chemicals. People may assume that fertilizers get washed away in heavy rain or completely absorbed by the grass, but much of it ends up on the paws of free-roaming pups and other wildlife. If given the opportunity to learn about the dangers of lawn care chemicals, more people may avoid using them.
Lymphoma and Lawn Chemicals
Pet owners know their dog better than anyone else, which is why it’s so important for all dog lovers to keep an eye on their pet and always be alert for changes in their behavior. Dog cancers typically share the same initial symptoms. Weight loss, changes in eating and difficulty swallowing are all early signs of canine cancer. Noticing this early on will help vets detect and diagnose dogs, leading to more treatment options.
One of the major canine cancers caused by lawn care chemicals is lymphoma. This cancer mutates the white blood cell count , forcing the body to attack itself. When white blood cells increase beyond the normal amount a dog typically has, there’s an increased production of lymphocytes. These make any malignant tumors worse, while the white blood cells are focused on fighting disease elsewhere in the body, causing eventual symptoms.
A study conducted by the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine found that lymphoma in animals directly correlated with some lawn care chemicals. Specifically, products that included 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid. 2 4-D is an endocrine-disrupting chemical, meant to kill off clovers and dandelions. When it’s absorbed into a dog’s body, it targets the thyroid and keeps the body from producing hormones that regulate normal functions such as white blood cell production.
Bladder Cancer and Lawn Chemicals
Bladder cancer is the other main cancer caused by 2 4-D. The chemical compound significantly increases the risk of this cancer, but it disproportionately affects different breeds. Breeds such as terriers, beagles and sheepdogs are more likely to get bladder cancer if exposed to 2 4-D. Even if owners aren’t spraying their lawns, keeping the chemical in the house or garage can be dangerous.
Dogs don’t need to touch the lawn care chemical for it to affect them. If they chew their way into a fertilizer bag or inhale it after an opened bag falls over, they are equally affected by the chemical. The same goes for if a dog runs through a treated lawn and goes back in the house. The chemical is then tracked inside where they’ll continue to have exposure to it.
Bladder cancer may be harder for owners to detect than lymphoma. The major symptoms are blood in the urine, frequent urination and pain when urinating. Unless an owner gets a good look at the urine after a dog finishes their business, these symptoms can go unchecked for months while the dog continues spending time in the yard.
How Can We Take Better Care of Our Pets and Wildlife?
The first thing home and pet owners can do is learn what a yard needs to grow and decide what the safest alternative is to popular fertilizer brands. Any yard can still be thick and green without adding harmful chemicals into our beautiful environment.
The first step to nurturing a yard is to test the pH of the soil. The amount of foam produced by household vinegar and baking soda will show where the soil level falls on the pH scale. If there’s minimal foam, the acidic content of soil is low. Compost or organic mulch can fix this quickly, whether the soil is meant to nourish grass or grow crops.
Soil with high levels of pH are also easy to treat. Leftover cold coffee can be diluted with water and poured out on grassy areas to lower pH levels. This should dry before dogs are let into the yard, but once it’s been absorbed, stepping in the area won’t cause any harm to dogs. Peat moss is another high pH treatment, if worked into the soil. Dogs can run around in the yard even as this treatment is done. Peat moss is nontoxic, only causing any harm if eaten in very large amounts. Other methods of lawn care don’t require treatments at all. Homeowners can make sure their lawn is receiving enough water frequently to ensure that the issue isn’t soil drying out.
It is possible to keep a lawn safe and thriving, while also preventing dogs from entering grass that has fertilizer residue in it. To keep dogs and wildlife healthy and happy, it’s always best to take the safest alternative. Dog owners can look for all-natural methods of treating soil pH levels. Once a home and yard is emptied of toxic chemicals, especially those containing 2 4-D, the chances of the family dog developing lymphoma or bladder cancer significantly decreases, as does the chance of any other beautiful wildlife suffering from harmful chemical exposure.
A new procedure may preserve fertility in kids with cancer after chemo or radiation
Updated March 21, 2019
Author: Kyle Orwig, Professor of OB/GYN and Reproductive Sciences, University of Pittsburgh
Disclosure statement: Kyle Orwig receives funding from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development.
Partners: University of Pittsburgh provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Cancer in children was often a death sentence in decades past, but new therapies are saving lives. Many of these treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation, however, make children infertile. Now, new research is showing one strategy to preserve their fertility so that someday they can have their own biological children.
Many childhood cancer survivors have remained beyond the reach of current assisted reproductive technologies because they are not able to produce mature sperm or eggs. Adult patients have the option to freeze eggs or sperm before treatment and use those samples in the future to achieve pregnancy using assisted reproductive technologies. Unfortunately, those options are not available to children who are not yet able to produce mature eggs or sperm.
Now I and my colleagues in the Orwig lab at the Magee-Womens Research Institute of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Cancer have developed a next-generation reproductive technology by figuring out how to preserve fertility in pediatric cancer patients who might face infertility after chemotherapy or radiation.
Pediatric cancer therapies
About 40,000 kids undergo cancer treatments each year, and 80 percent of children will survive and can look forward to a full and productive life. The bad news is that treatment comes at a cost: About 30 percent of adult survivors of these childhood cancers discover that their lifesaving cancer treatment had an unintended side effect – infertility. Cancer survivors report that fertility is important to them, and while adoption or other family building options are available, those options are not always accessible or desired.
In our current study, we used a juvenile male macaque to test whether it was possible to collect and then freeze immature testicular tissues – which produce mature sperm only after puberty.
We began our experiment by surgically removing this tissue from macaques, which we immediately froze. As the animals neared puberty, the testicular tissue was thawed and grafted just under the skin of the same monkey’s back or scrotum.
The grafts matured during the next several months under the influence of pubertal hormones from the brain. The grafts grew and produced testosterone, which is required for sperm production. We retrieved the testicular tissues eight to 12 months after the grafting procedure, dissected it and discovered that all of the grafted tissue produced mature sperm.
My team then collected this sperm and sent it to our collaborators in the Assisted Reproductive Technology Core of the Oregon National Primate Research Center at the Oregon Health and Science University, who injected it into an egg from a female macaque – a procedure called intracytoplasmic sperm injection.
We then checked the eggs to see which ones were successfully fertilized by the sperm. Eleven of the resulting embryos were transferred into six surrogate female macaques, resulting in one pregnancy that produced a healthy baby girl that we named Grady, which stands for graft-derived baby.
This is the first study to prove that sperm from frozen and thawed primate testicular tissue grafts were able to fertilize eggs and produce a healthy baby.
Implications for the human fertility clinic
The freezing and thawing aspect is important because a prepubertal cancer patient may need to keep their testicular or ovarian tissue in frozen storage for years or even decades before they need them for reproductive purposes.
Combined with nearly two decades of work by other researchers in mice, pig and monkey models, we believe that our results provide important preclinical safety and feasibility data to justify translating this technique to the human fertility clinic in the next two to five years.
I believe we owe this to our patients who have already accepted the risk of testicular biopsy surgery and trusted us to develop next-generation reproductive therapies.
Academic centers around the world, including the Fertility Preservation Program of UPMC, are freezing testicular tissues for boys and ovarian tissues for girls in anticipation that those tissues can be matured in the future to produce sperm or eggs and biological offspring.
There is one documented case of an adult survivor of a childhood cancer who had a baby after her frozen ovarian tissues were transplanted back into her body. There are no documented births from frozen testicular tissues. Our group has been freezing testicular tissue for boys and ovarian tissues for girls since 2011 and has preserved tissues for nearly 250 patients (206 testicular tissues and 41 ovarian tissues).
Therefore, our laboratory is committed to responsibly developing the next generation of assisted reproductive technologies that will allow our patients to use their tissues to achieve their reproductive goals.
All patients should be informed about the reproductive side effects of their medical treatments and about options to preserve their fertility immediately at the time of diagnosis.
Kyle Orwig describes how this team harvested tissue, froze and thawed it, and used it to produce mature sperm that successfully fertilized an egg.