Why ‘Operation Varsity Blues’ is about more than the unfair advantages in the college application system

Katharine Steers

Immediately after the news of ‘Operation Varsity Blues’ broke, article after article cast the parents as victims of a messed up college application system or that the parents acted out of a misguided sense of love. The overall sentiment being “Who doesn’t want the best for their kids?” However, this left me wondering: Were the extreme lengths taken by these parents, including bribery and fraud, really done for their children’s benefit?

Amongst all the rumors and reporting, it’s difficult to determine which of the involved students knew about their parents’ actions and which did not. However, the ultimate message is clear: their parents didn’t believe that they were good enough to get in on their own merits. In the illegal actions taken to ensure their children’s college admissions, the parents removed any chances of failure. This behavior, termed “snowplow” parenting by The New York Times, describes how “Some affluent mothers and fathers are now more like snowplows: machines chugging ahead, clearing any obstacles in their child’s path to success, so they don’t have to encounter failure, frustration or lost opportunities.” In this case, parents obliterated the line between assisting their children and completely taking over.

Prior to the scandal breaking, the daughter of two of the parents charged, Olivia Jade, spoke candidly on the Zach Sang radio show. When asked why she even attends college, Jade replied, “Mostly my parents wanted me to go [to college] because both of them didn’t go to college.” While most parents want their kids to be successful, author Preston Ni in Psychology Today’s “10 Signs of a Narcissistic Parent” describes parents that set expectations for the child based on their own selfish needs and fulfillment as engaging in “narcissistic parent” behavior.

Ni goes on to assert that narcissistic parents often have a grandiose sense of entitlement with the belief that “We’re better than they are.” Thus, if you believe you are exceptional, arguably it’s easier to break the rules because you do not view them as applicable.

According to Ni, for some narcissistic parents “social networking is a wonderland where they regularly advertise how wonderful and envy-worthy their lives are. The underlying messages may be: ‘I am/my life is so special and interesting,’ and ‘Look at ME – I have what you don’t have!” So let’s be honest here, Santa Monica City College just doesn’t have the same “wow factor” on a parent’s well-curated social media profile as more elite universities might.

Regardless of the parents’ motivation, the end result amounts to a breach of our society’s social contract. Dictionary.com defines the social contract as “the voluntary agreement among individuals by which organized society is brought into being and invested with the right to secure mutual protection and welfare or to regulate the relations among its members.” We are all beneficiaries of living in a society where its members follow shared codes of conduct and rules. However, from parents to our elected officials, “exceptional” people evidently do not feel obligated to follow rules because rules simply exist for “other” people. Of course if they’re caught they can simply obfuscate, deflect, deny or hire a public relations person to write a clever response and redirect the narrative.

Although there are legitimate questions about the role wealth plays in college admissions and the fairness of the college application system, the Operation Varsity Blues scandal is not about that at its core. Rather, this scandal exposes the rampant sense of entitlement among parents with the means to bribe and cheat. Simply put, this is about the parents and their egos.