An online petition calling for Georgetown University to revoke the degrees and admission of all current and former students involved in the college admissions bribery scheme has gained 16,691 signatures as of press time.
Georgetown alumnus and admissions interviewer Mickey Lee (COL ’05) tweeted the petition March 13. The petition refers to a U.S. Department of Justice indictment of 50 parents and athletic coaches involved in an admissions bribery scheme, where parents bribed athletic coaches at eight selective universities to secure their children’s admission.
The March 12 indictment charged former Georgetown tennis coach Gordon Ernst with accepting $2.7 million in bribes for fraudulently recruiting 12 applicants for competitive tennis teams. The indictment also named five Georgetown parents.
The scandal reveals the inequality in the admissions process, according to Lee.
“People can definitely buy their way legally into the school or make it very favorable to the admissions process by donating enough money to buy a building and having it in their name,” Lee said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “I think it sucks, but that’s just the nature of it, but this is so obviously and blatantly illegal.”
The petition comes after the University of Southern California rescinded the admission of six students implicated in the scandal March 14, according to The Washington Post. Georgetown has the opportunity to lead other institutions involved in the scheme by quickly revoking admission and the degrees, according to Lee.
“If we take action, I think we can set the standard instead of just waiting for Stanford to do something or USC to do something. I think that we should be the first to do it to show that, you know, we are serious about this and we want to clear our name and we want to show the world that our university means business and we’re clean, you know, to the extent that we can be,” Lee said. “The world is really watching.”
The university will not comment on any disciplinary action against the students who were allegedly admitted to Georgetown with fraudulent applications because of protections offered by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, according to university spokesperson Matt Hill. FERPA is a federal law that protects the confidentiality of student education records.
The university is committed to equitable admissions and will take action if necessary, University President John J. DeGioia wrote in a March 15 campuswide email.
“Now that the government’s investigation has detailed the extent of the alleged fraud, we are reviewing the indictment and will take appropriate action,” DeGioia wrote. “We have no indication that any other Georgetown employees were involved.”
The university also disclosed that it had enacted measures in December 2018 to mitigate fraud for student-athlete applicants, including restrictions on gifts and fundraising as well as audits to determine whether recruited student-athletes appear on rosters, according to a FAQ page posted on the university website. The university has also hired a third party to conduct an audit of athletic recruiting and make recommendations about how to adjust admissions policies.
Georgetown said it discovered irregularities in Ernst’s recruitment practices and put him on leave in December 2017, but that the university did not know of his criminal conduct until it was contacted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in November 2018.
Ernst received a positive recommendation from the university’s athletic director, Lee Reed, in July 2018. Any statements following Ernst’s resignation only endorsed his athletic performance, according to university spokesperson Meghan Dubyak.
“It was widely known that Mr. Ernst had been on leave since December 2017 and had not been permitted to coach students since that time,” Dubyak wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Any statement Georgetown made after asking him to resign focused on his athletic record only.”
Enrolled students Isabelle Henriquez (COL ’20) and Adam Semprevivo (COL ’20), whose parents are charged in the indictment, are currently not listed in the student directory. Hill did not specify why Henriquez and Semprevivo are no longer included. (Full disclosure: Semprevivo formerly served as the cartoonist for The Hoya.)
“The university strives to protect the privacy of community members, so there are a variety of reasons personal information may not be visible in the contact directory,” Hill wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Appearing in the directory is optional.”
Henriquez and Semprevivo were not available for comment at the time of press.
Though Lee’s petition calls for the university to rescind the admissions and degrees of all students involved in the scandal, different disciplinary action should be taken against students who knew of their parent’s fraudulent acts and those who were unaware of their parents involvement in the scam, according to Laura Arenas (COL ’22), who signed the petition.
“For the people who already graduated and whether they knew or not, I think it’s harder to say, because they did complete the work that is necessary to gain a degree from Georgetown, and if they didn’t know their parents were doing that, then they’re not really at fault,” Arena said. “It’s kind of complicated when it comes to rescinding degrees, but I think at the very least there should be some sort of definite action against the girl who was still here and knew about what her parent’s actions were.”
Students involved in such schemes deprive others who might better deserve admission from the opportunity to attend selective colleges, according to admitted student Yalda Zarrabi, who currently attends Holton-Arms School in Bethesda, Md.
“People work for these specific universities so hard for four years to get into them and they’re some really deserving people, and kids who were involved in this scandal are kind of taking away the spots of people who have worked really, really hard,” Zarrabi said.