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No One Asked, But Here’s David Mamet’s Take On The Admissions Scandal Anyway

Like his characters, David Mamet lacks a filter. The celebrated playwright feels the near-constant urge to opine on issues that don’t require his input. Race relations. “Brain-Dead Liberals” . Sexual abuse in Hollywood.

Now Mamet is tackling the scandal du jour: A $25 million college admissions bribery plot uncovered by the FBI and revealed in court documents yesterday. The investigation resulted in indictments for standardized testing officials, university sports coaches and parents. Included in the latter group was Felicity Huffman, the wife of Mamet’s frequent creative collaborator William H. Macy.

In an open letter published by The Hollywood Reporter, Mamet attempted to dismiss the alleged criminality of the 33 parents charged in the scheme as symptomatic of the larger system of “corrupt” college admissions.

“I do not see the difference between getting a kid into school by bribing the Building Committee, and by bribing someone else,” Mamet writes. “But, apparently, the second is against the Law. So be it.”

While there’s a valid point to be found there, a guy who wrote a little film called “The Verdict” and is himself the son of a lawyer ought to know that legal distinctions matter.

To his credit, Mamet doesn’t try to appear objective. He couldn’t. He puts his connection to Macy, with whom he started the New York-based Atlantic Theater Company, and Huffman, a former student of his who has acted in many of his films and plays, out in the open. “I’m crazy about both of them,” he writes. But he still insists he’s driven by principle, not bias: “That a parent’s zeal for her children’s future may have overcome her better judgment for a moment is not only unfortunate, it is, I know we parents would agree, a universal phenomenon.”

Yes, of course, universal — because we all have the means to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to cheat our child into an Ivy League school.

Mamet might argue that regardless of our salaries we can all join together to protest broken admission policies. The law offers recourse. As he notes earlier in the letter, “Harvard was once sued for restricting the admission of qualified Jews; a contest currently being waged by Asians.”

It’s telling that Mamet felt the need to reference these contests in excusing the indicted parents’ behavior. But unlike Jews and Asians, the children of wealthy parents are not a discrete class subject to discrimination — although they certainly have more access to lawyers and funds available to pay for a protracted legal battle.

Jews applying to Harvard were indeed faced with unfair discrimination in the early 20th century, with an official quota proposed and rejected in the 1920s. Nearly a century later, in 2014*, a group of academically-gifted Asian-American students not accepted to Harvard filed a lawsuit against the university arguing bias against Asian candidates over other groups boosted by affirmative action, effectively instating a so-called “Asian quota.” The plaintiffs, Students for Fair Admissions, even planned to present the school’s history of anti-Semitic discrimination as part of their evidence in a move Harvard’s lawyers objected to. (The case, which could have a profound effect on current diversity initiatives, went to trial last year and currently awaits a resolution.)

But bringing up these cases is more of an aside than an argument. Moreover, their mention comes bundled with a troubling subtext with regards to race-conscious admissions that benefit other minorities.

Let’s be clear: This case is about pay-to-play; it’s about class. Introducing the racial dimension isn’t the best look. Even if it comes from the guy who wrote “Race.”

*_Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the year the lawsuit between Students for Fair Admissions and Harvard University was filed._

PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture intern. He can be reached at [email protected]


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