As the Nov. 1 early decision deadline approaches, Penn's Office of Admissions is likely flooded with applications from students across the country, including many of the future stars of Penn Athletics. In response to last year’s nationwide admissions scandal and one involving fraud in Harvard University’s athletic recruiting, Harvard announced that its Athletics Department would be implementing two new policies to thwart fraud in the admissions process. Despite the revelation of a similar scandal at Penn, unlike Harvard, Penn has failed to announce any such reforms.
Former Penn men's basketball coach Jerome Allen pleaded guilty in October 2018 to accepting bribes to help a student gain admission as a recruited athlete. Considering this scandal, which highlighted the serious potential for fraud in athlete recruiting, Penn Admissions must announce the results of their internal investigation and implement safeguards like Harvard to protect against future abuses.
At Harvard, coaches must now provide materials, such as national rankings or newspaper articles, that admissions officers can use to independently verify a prospective student’s athletic ability. Coaches are also now required to go through conflict of interest training.
These new policies should be considered a model for strengthening Penn’s own admissions procedures for recruited athletes. Penn’s admissions process is one of the most selective in the world, but the most important principle that must be respected is fairness. Without protections that safeguard against fraud, future applicants to Penn should not trust that they are engaging in a fair and just system.
Penn knows that a perception that fraudulent admissions practices are acceptable is a threat to its fundamental legitimacy as an institution and the prestige that is so coveted. It’s the reason they had such a strong response to the revelations about Allen. But it’s critical that administrators follow the strong statements made last year with strong actions.
After news of the scandal broke in March 2018, Penn Dean of Admissions Eric Furda said the University would consider revising its processes related to recruitment and evaluation. Penn also hired an outside consultant to review internal procedures after new details emerged about the Jerome Allen scandal in October 2018.
"Penn Admissions and [the University's Division of Recreation and Intercollegiate Athletics] have worked with an outside consultant to review and strengthen our processes for the recruitment of student athletes and, in light of the current charges, will again consider whether any further changes are called for in our recruitment and evaluation processes," Furda wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian in March.
While it is encouraging that administrators have committed to safeguarding against future incidents of bribery and fraud in the admissions process, there has not been transparency in regard to the specific policies or initiatives instituted in the wake of these scandals.
Furda has yet to provide specific details on the findings of the outside consultant or whether these suggested changes are being implemented as the Class of 2024 applies to Penn. Penn must be transparent about both its findings from the consultant and what it plans to do in response to those findings, or risk losing the trust of future applicants.
Penn should follow Harvard by creating an athletic verification system in which the athletic credentials of recruited athletes can be checked. Penn administrators and athletic officials must also be educated about ethical admissions practices.
The Jerome Allen scandal and other similar scandals around the country exposed some of the serious flaws and potential vulnerabilities within Penn’s admissions process for recruited athletes — who represent a sizable percentage of each incoming class at Penn. Both Furda and Penn Athletics Director M. Grace Calhoun have a responsibility to address these flaws and explicitly state the actions Penn is taking to prevent future fraud. They must take action, and they must be transparent about a process that is traditionally shrouded in secrecy.
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