As a former Atlanta U.S. attorney and Emory University general counsel, Kent Alexander has two unique angles from which to assess this week’s federal allegations that wealthy parents paid millions in bribes to help their children attend top universities.
Alexander noted he’s finishing a book project and only had to time read news accounts of the scandal, but he offered some thoughts.
As the case proceeds, he speculated, “There will be a question … whether some of the parents are co-conspirators or victims.”
He said he knows how much some parents want to help their children get into college. In 11 years at Emory, Alexander said, “I’d get calls frequently” from people asking if a generous contribution to the school would help their teenager get accepted. “It wasn’t, ‘I want to break the law,’” he added. His response was the same: Grades, standardized test scores, extra-curricular activities and recommendations were the only things that could help the student’s chances.
He also remembered receiving calls from “angry parents” whose children weren’t accepted despite great grades, scores, extracurricular involvement and recommendations.
“Everybody” at Emory shared the same characteristics, he’d reply, adding that the admissions system at Emory was “pretty buttoned-up.” He estimated that no more than one-fourth of the applicants he knew well enough personally to write a recommendation letter were accepted.
Alexander noted that, unlike the eight schools identified as unwitting targets of the defendant parents, Emory athletic teams play in Division III. “Division I is an entirely different animal,” he recalled hearing from fellow university GCs.
Recalling his time as a prosecutor, he said the indictments were “a little bit of a reversal” in that, in typical white-collar criminal cases, prosecutors pursue low-level defendants and work their way up to the alleged kingpin. In this case, federal prosecutors secured cooperation from the leader of the alleged cheating and bribing operation before pursuing the parents.