Penn needs to go public with the results and reforms of its admissions investigation

It has been 15 months since news broke about former men’s basketball head coach Jerome Allen receiving bribes from Florida businessman Philip Esformes to place Esformes’s son, Morris Esformes, onto the recruited athlete list for the entering Fall 2015 class.  The information, which was revealed as federal authorities were investigating the elder Esformes for healthcare fraud, led to bribery charges against Allen.  Since that time, Allen and Philip Esformes were found guilty and sentenced for their crimes, while the younger Esformes graduated from Penn’s Wharton School.

In March, Yale was caught up in the national Operation Varsity Blues admission scandal, when its former women’s soccer head coach Rudy Meredith was alleged to have taken bribes to place students on his recruited athlete list.  Meredith plead guilty to his actions and is awaiting sentencing.  Of the two recruited students, one was admitted for the fall of 2018 and had her acceptance rescinded.

Looking at the responses to these scandals by the two Ivy League institutions, one has been open and one has been far from forthcoming.

Penn Director of Athletics Grace Calhoun and her department have released minimal information to the Penn community regarding its investigation (Penn hired an outside consultant, Chuck Smrt of the Compliance Group, to oversee its internal investigation) and no news about specific reforms to the admission process for student-athletes.  Dean of Admissions Eric Furda has given several interviews to independent sites, as well as a school publication, stressing the needed trust between admissions and athletics, as well as general concepts of checks and balances after having worked with an outside consultant.

President Amy Gutmann does not appear to have issued a single word about the investigation.

Yale President Peter Salovey, meanwhile, issued four statements to the Yale community and posted a FAQ page between this past March and August.  These statements, in addition to a university press release, included the following information:

  • The investigation, conducted by law firm WilmerHale, involved a review of thousands of documents, interviews with coaches and administrators in athletics and admissions.
  • PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) consulting firm was brought in to recommend additional safeguards.
  • Director of Athletics Vicky Chun put new protocols into place for athletic recruiting.
    Coaches will meet regularly with their sports supervisors, administrators assigned to oversee Yale’s athletic teams and provide closer supervision in all aspects of a team’s program, including recruiting.
    Sports administrators not associated with the team will verify the athletic credentials of every recruit, using publicly available sources.  When supporting a prospective student-athlete, a coach will include three external references to confirm a recruit’s athletic status.
    Further precautions will be taken to ensure that Yale monitors and understands cases where a given recruited athlete does not end up joining, or joins but later leaves the program, the team for which they were recruited.
  • Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Jeremiah Quinlan’s department will institute procedures for verifying many of the academic and extracurricular credentials applicants self-report in their applications.  These procedures will supplement the department’s existing processes, which include gathering information from multiple sources, requiring high school transcripts and standardized test scores, and frequently contacting high school officials.
  • PwC suggested protocols and improvements in Yale’s documentation of its admission procedures and decisions, including an audit of applications and systems for monitoring aspects of the admission process that may be at a higher risk for fraud.

In February, Dr. Calhoun told the Daily Pennsylvanian, “Penn thoroughly reviewed everything surrounding the situation, and as soon as we’re at liberty to proceed forward, after that part of the trial at least, we will.”

“While Allen is waiting to testify, Penn Athletics cannot comment on the investigation into his conduct. Calhoun says the department is committed to moving forward with its findings when it is able,” The Daily Pennsylvanian noted in February.

It has been more than seven months since that testimony, more than three months since Allen was sentenced and more than one month since Philip Esformes was sentenced.  Still, Penn has not released any new details about the review of the Allen situation, which the Philadelphia Inquirer reported was in its “final stages” in Oct. 2018, citing a statement from Penn Athletics.

While Penn continued its relative silence on this matter into the summer, Sports Illustrated posted an article that not only went into more detail about Allen and his relationship with the Esformes family, but exposed new information that brought his two oldest children and four unnamed Penn players into the orbit of the scandal.  The longer the school stays silent, the greater the chance that journalists with the time and resources to follow this story will uncover more details.

Whether academic, athletic or societal, it shouldn’t have to come to journalists digging around for the truth, op-eds from the Daily Pennsylvanian Editorial Board, stakeholders voicing their displeasure to President Gutmann and alumni threatening to withhold their money or involvement for the administration to be open with members of the Penn community.

With regards to its admissions scandal, at least, Yale’s leadership (not to mention Harvard, Southern Cal, UCLA, Texas and Virginia) has provided a road map for the Quakers.

Penn’s administration needs to announce all members and results of its investigation, explain how the involved student was allowed to graduate from the university and detail the reforms put in place to minimize the chance that this type of scandal will happen again.

(The athletic department should also be more open with regards to allegations of mistreatment from members of the 2018 softball and volleyball teams, as well as the nature of its relationship with Tencent media in the wake of recent troubles between the NBA and China.)

If not, the university should not be surprised that people will view its degrees as less valuable and prospective students, as well as their families, will choose a more transparent school when judging Penn against its elite brethren.

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