Two college students and two parents filed a class action lawsuit against Georgetown University on March 15, alleging monetary harm after revelations that applicants were fraudulently admitted to the university.
The suit follows an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice uncovering a service that parents used beginning around 2011 to bribe athletic coaches and administrators of standardized tests to guarantee their children admission to elite universities. The investigation’s findings, which indicted 50 parents and athletic officials, were announced March 12.
Gordon Ernst, the former Georgetown men’s and women’s head tennis coach, was charged for accepting bribes to fraudulently designate select students as athletic recruits to fast-track their admission.
The lawsuit, which targets the eight universities involved in the larger bribery scheme, claims an unfair admissions process emotionally and economically damaged the students who were rejected from Georgetown. Students paid application fees, for which Georgetown charges $75, to join an unequal application process, according to the complaint.
“Each of the admissions processes at these universities was tainted by corruption, such that those parents with children who had mediocre grades and test scores were allowed admission based upon the amount of bribery money they paid university insiders,” the complaint reads.
Georgetown is invested in ensuring a fair admissions process, according to University Spokesperson Matt Hill.
“While we do not comment on pending litigation, Georgetown University takes the integrity of our admissions process seriously and is committed to a fair, holistic process whereby each application is carefully reviewed,” Hill wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We review all applicants without consideration of a family’s financial consideration or ability to pay.”
The operation was spearheaded by William Singer, a college consultant who used his nonprofit, the Key Worldwide Foundation, to pay bribes, according to the indictment.
In addition to Georgetown, the college students are suing Stanford University, Yale University and Wake Forest University. Singer, who allegedly received $25 million from 32 parents to facilitate the scheme, is also named a defendant.
The lawsuit is unlikely to win settlement funds from Georgetown because it has a high bar to prove the university was complicit, according to J. Peter Byrne, a professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center.
“This case can prevail against Georgetown only if higher ups at Georgetown knew or should have known about the cheating,” Byrne wrote in an email to The Hoya. “The plaintiffs’ lawyers reveal no knowledge of this and likely are fishing for lucky evidence and a settlement to make them go away.”
Should the college students win the case, all individuals who were rejected from any of the colleges involved in the alleged scheme between 2012 and 2018 would be eligible to receive the funds, according to the complaint.
Stanford students Erica Olsen and Kalea Woods originally filed a class action suit against the universities on March 14. The case was voluntarily and permanently dismissed without prejudice on March 15, meaning it could be refiled, and was done so without Woods as a plaintiff.
The argument of the new case is largely similar to the previous case, but different individuals are suing the universities. The lawsuit no longer alleges that the value of academic degrees for students who were admitted to the universities named in the indictment have been devalued.
Georgetown is committed to fairness in its admissions process, University President John J. DeGioia wrote in a campuswide email March 15.
“Our longstanding policies of need-blind admissions and meet-full-need financial aid, our partnerships with programs such as the Cristo Rey Network, a network of Catholic high schools in underserved communities, and our programs that provide opportunities and support to our first-generation and low-income students advance a foundational commitment to equity and access for all members of our community,” DeGioia wrote.
The suit comes after a petition by Micky Lee (COL ’05), a former instructor for Georgetown’s Tae Kwon Do club, called for the university to rescind all degrees granted to students involved in the admissions scheme. The petition, which has earned 16,252 signatures as of press time, requests the university take such action to maintain its reputation.
“I implore the administration to rescind admissions and any degrees conferred to all students involved in this scandal,” the petition reads. “In addition, a written public apology needs to be made to all university alumni and students as well as applicants/families of those who were deferred or not admitted at these cheaters’ expense.”