OPINION: By expelling implicated students, USC can display its commitment to a fair admission process

Georgetown University announced last week that it will expel two students involved in the nationwide college admissions bribery case. In doing so, it follows the lead of peer institutions like Stanford and Yale, sending a stern warning that students who benefit from “side doors,” intentionally or not, will suffer.

This clarity is absent in USC’s vague decision-making process. In April, the University released a public statement announcing that it has continued a “thorough review of the student-athlete admissions process” and “placed holds on the accounts of students who may be associated with the alleged admissions scheme.” However, this same statement stops short of applying the ultimate sanction to implicated students, instead falling back to its promise of a “case-by-case review.”

“Case-by-case” fails as an acceptable rubric because its implied vagueness allows far too much room for arbitrary discretion. Even if investigators do use a concrete, rigorous rubric, the University’s decision to omit its existence is still problematic, especially within the context of an already-secretive admissions process. 

Students and faculty continue to call for transparency and accountability at USC, and this process should be no exception.  After all the distrust engendered by scandal after scandal, USC owes it to the public to abandon such rhetoric altogether and unilaterally expel those associated with the admissions scheme.

Although the solution is simple, the temptation is strong to view the implicated students as innocent, even victims of their parents’ wrongdoing. The underlying assumption here is that being unaware of wrongdoing committed on one’s behalf excuses that person from liability.

Existing regulatory precedent, however, states that ignorance is no excuse. In its April public statement, the University said that it uses the Common Application’s attestation, which includes the stipulation that “I may be subject to a range of possible disciplinary actions, including admission revocation, expulsion, or revocation of course credit, grades, and degree should the information I have certified be false.” Given that the only criteria for disciplinary action is falsehood, not prior knowledge, USC has more than enough right to expel students associated with the scheme.

In fact, the idea that an applicant is truly ignorant of the contents of their college application is truly ridiculous. One of the conditions that every applicant using the Common Application must agree to is that all information is their own work, which naturally extends to the submission process. And if the applicant is unable or unwilling to personally invest in the paperwork of their own college application, they have no business attending college in the first place.

More importantly, expelling implicated students restores justice to the admissions system. Given that the goal of college application fraud is to secure an undeserved spot in a prestigious university, denying admission and diplomas from that university prevents unethical behavior from reaping undeserved benefits.

At a time when USC is dubbed the “University of Scandals and Corruption,” it is unreasonable to believe that sweeping scandal-linked students under the rug through “case-by-case” rhetoric will bring permanent closure to this scandalous episode. 

Instead, the University must join its fellow universities in taking decisive action to prevent anyone from benefiting from corruption in the admissions process. 

Rescinding admission to all students implicated in the college admissions scheme is the first step toward restoring transparency to USC’s rhetoric and a trusting relationship with the campus community.