Volume 60

Defining Corruption Through College Admissions: Answering the Call for a Redefinition of Corruption by Turning to the Real World

by Philip M. Nichols

The United States has two problems with corruption. Most evidently, the United States experiences corruption, and suffers its harms. More problematically, the United States’ legal system struggles with the concept of corruption, and how to define it. Over the last fifteen years, the Supreme Court has aggressively narrowed its definition, acutely undercutting the ability of the legal system to control corruption. Legal scholars, and the public, have emphatically responded with calls for reconsideration and redefinition. The furious reactions to the Court’s definitional sleight of hand, however, seem to die out after those calls are made, and legal scholarship lies adrift, seeking a useful approach to defining corruption. Intriguingly, an approach lies directly in the vision of the legal system. For the past quarter century, while the Supreme Court has enfeebled the law, activity among anticorruption organizations has surged. Those practitioners have coalesced around a shared understanding of corruption. This Article explores that definition by applying it to the recent scheme involving college admissions. To do so, the Article first must explore the missions of universities and the admissions process that supports those missions, and second must closely examine the scheme itself. When applied to this scheme, the general understanding effectively distinguishes corrupt acts from other acts and provides other insights. Corruption is a real-world phenomenon, and the general understanding shared by real-world practitioners constitutes a valuable tool, which merits consideration and use by the legal system.

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