I want to be clear at the outset. I cheated to get my son into a prestigious university. This was years ago, so you might say I was a pioneer in that game, though instigator may be more accurate. I certainly don’t boast about what I did.
Without my son’s knowledge, I paid someone to take his SAT exam. Whether it was, or is, a violation of the law I’m not certain, but I do know it was a violation of the most fundamental principles of honesty and fair-dealing.
Lest you think I am about to throw myself at the mercy of the legal system or public opinion, I am not. I believe that my misdeed (or crime, if you wish) is now beyond the statute of limitations. But, even if it weren’t, it has, by chance, produced some good that I would not wish to destroy. I’ll try to explain:
My son was an amiable, but feckless, kid. He slid through junior high and high school with grades just good enough to keep him from being held back. His real passion was sports, but as a fan, not an athlete (you could say this assured he would escape at least that particular college admissions scandal).
It was clear he was not headed for college, and I wasn’t going to push him. But I didn’t want him hanging uselessly around the house or the town. A chance to live in a different environment might be the spur he needed.
We talked about it, and he admitted that his dream was to go, every day if possible, to a game — baseball, hockey, basketball, football, it didn’t matter. I didn’t see any particular benefit, but I didn’t see any harm, and we considered how, and where, he could do that.
He was unequivocal: New York City, with the Yankees and the Mets, the Rangers and the Islanders, the Knicks, the Giants.
I didn’t disagree, but, when I looked at New York housing costs, it was quite a bite, even for a rich man. But more serious was the thought of his being alone in what could be a pretty tough, unforgiving city.
As I wondered what arrangement would give him social contacts, it hit me: Columbia University! If he could stay in a dorm, he’d have a roommate and scores of dorm-mates, even a Resident Assistant or two to check on him, plus a college cafeteria (nutritious if not exactly tasty) and an infirmary. I didn’t rule out the possibility that he’d notice there was a library there that might have biographies of Gehrig or Ruth or Jackie Robinson.
I didn’t mention my idea to him, but went ahead and made the SAT arrangements (make it solid, I instructed, but not so brilliant they’ll smell a rat). I did the application, including the essay (same principle), and sent it in. A few months and, voila! he was accepted.
It wasn’t easy explaining all this to my son, but I managed, without giving anything away. I persuaded him that Columbia was big, and nobody would notice he wasn’t going to classes. The prospect of going to a game every day made it easy to gloss over questions like tests and papers or, more serious, what if offcialdom found out. We both understood that, at most, this would be a one-year proposition.
In late August, off he went. He dutifully reported on baseball and football games, and the beginning of basketball and hockey seasons. At first, he was rapturous, but around November, and then especially after Christmas break, there was a change. It was a game every other day, then every third day, and he no longer seemed quite as excited about home runs and hat-tricks.
Worried, I phoned him. He said he was great. It was just that his roommate and his new friends had gotten him interested in a few classes and, the more he went to, the more he wanted to go to.
I think you see where this is headed. He finished the year with reasonable grades, did better each successive year, graduated with honors, went to law school and, in time, became a successful, respected, and quite well-known judge. And, by the way, he still loves sports.
I have never told him what I did.
I know two wrongs don’t make a right. But what if it’s only one rather insignificant wrong? I ask myself what are the odds that the person who might have been in his place at Columbia would have produced the good he has. I ask what his life would have been like if he had continued to bumble around and hadn’t had that fire lit under him or how he would have responded if I’d pushed him to do what he seemed unprepared for.
Does a very positive end justify a negative (but not so terribly negative) means?
All I can conclude is that the results of my misdeed are probably more positive than the results of my inaction would have been. But then, no matter what the outcome, I violated a sensible code that would be destroyed if everybody did what I did.
Oy, what a muddle that I guess I’ll have to leave to others to sort out.