Recently the topic of privilege has been front and center in the media. What’s the first image that comes to your mind when you hear that word? Do you associate a skin color with it, elitism, money, power, and connections? How about all of the above? Depending on the circumstance you are probably right with whatever your answer is.
Oxford dictionaries define privilege as a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group. The counterpoint given to that word is ‘education is a right, not a privilege.’
What say you? Is education a right and not a privilege? If it is a right because the laws of our country deem it to be is high school graduation the period of time when that right ends and continued education becomes a privilege? Considering the competition to get into sought after universities, scholarships and the ability to pay for that education one could argue the point that attending college and university is indeed a privilege.
Let’s focus on scholarships and their beneficiaries for a second. Say your child is not the sharpest tool in the shed academically but is athletically gifted. The school offers them a full ride so long as they are able to play in the sport they were recruited for and maintain a certain grade point average. That is a privilege only they and people who are great at that sport are able to qualify for. Is that fair for the other students who want to attend that school but do not excel in sports? You might be saying no but the student spent many years playing that sport and is deserving of it. You also could say the school makes money off of the athlete and it’s only right that they get to go to school for free. Fair enough.
What about scholarships that are race or gender-based? The organizations giving out those scholarships have a preference of who will receive the money and skin color, gender or geographic location is a deciding factor on who qualifies. Is that fair for the students who do not fit into that narrow checklist but are otherwise equally deserving of financial assistance? Some might say it’s their money and they have the right to donate it to whomever they want. Fair enough.
Alumni and the donations they give to their alma maters are the financial bread and butter of many universities. The endowments they receive from students who are part of a legacy bloodline of multigenerational graduates are the epitome of privilege. When an alumnus has a building on campus named in their honor after making a sizeable donation you can imagine the unspoken quid-pro-quo when it’s time to make an admissions decision for their child who’s applying to the school.
A cheating corruption scandal has rocked many faculty members, corporate executives, and celebrities. The people involved gave large sums of money to recruiters to create fraudulent reports for their children and in-turn split that money with some of the school administrators. Besides the fact that lying on applications is clearly wrong and takes a spot away from a student who is honest and deserving what do you think is the real reason, people are so upset with the parent’s actions? The answer: privilege.
The donation/bribe amounts ranged from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands to even millions of dollars. This is money that far exceeds the total cost of tuition at any of those schools. One might say why not just make a donation to the school directly like so many other affluent people have done in the past? Maybe they wanted to give their child a false sense of achievement. Maybe the cost of having your name on a building has gone up and even a few million dollars was not enough to get their kid in the school. What’s obvious is that in their pursuit for the pedigree those schools promote, vanity took over and higher learning, which is what the schools were created for went by the wayside.
In law, there is a term that is apropos for this situation: the fruit of the poisonous tree. It is a legal metaphor in the United States used to describe evidence that is obtained illegally. The logic of the terminology is that if the source (the “tree”) of the evidence or evidence itself is tainted, then anything gained (the “fruit”) from it is tainted as well. The families involved in this scandal are learning the hard way that for every privilege money can buy there is a price to be paid that goes beyond dollars and cents.