Mar 16, 2019

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

☘️ Good Saturday morning. Tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day.

1 big thing ... #UToo: University shortcuts for the rich

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

A new phase in the sudden reckoning for universities is likely to be the outrageous — but totally legal — practices benefiting the wealthy and wired.

  • This week's revelation — about the corrupt use of bribes to improperly tap coaches' slots designed to help athletic applicants — exposed a "side door."
  • There are also long known "back doors" that deny spots to hardworking, gifted students without money or connections.
  • Why it matters: The scandal is what's perfectly legal and customary.

Axios' Felix Salmon points out that beyond an education or credential, what students buy from fancy universities is social context, an invisible class signifier.

  • So the beneficiaries are the parents as well as the students.

A few of the legal ways college admissions are rigged for the wealthy:

  • The best-known is the preference and attention that go to parents who give massive donations and endowments before their kids apply — "development admits," in university jargon. As the N.Y. Times' Frank Bruni wrote: "It may be legal to pledge $2.5 million to Harvard just as your son is applying ... and illegal to bribe a coach, ... but ... [b]oth elevate money over accomplishment."
  • Another path that hurts would-be first-generation students at fancy schools is favoritism for potential legacy students — sons and daughters of alumni. Documents revealed in a lawsuit against Harvard last fall showed that "longstanding connections, sometimes built over generations," were among the "advantages enjoyed primarily by white applicants," per the Boston Globe.
  • Rich people hire ACT, SAT specialty tutors, and pay for their kid to take it until they nail it. Legal but not available unless you can bankroll it. 
  • Tax loopholes that help rich people are enablers of massive donations.

Be smart ... Frank Bruni wrote a book about college admissions mania with the very accurate title, "Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be." He tells Axios:

  • "Many, many college presidents are mortified, and some even worry about critics using this scandal to question the tax-exempt status of private colleges and universities." (Go deeper in this column.)
  • Bruni said it's possible some donors "giving for only high-minded reasons" will "see their alma maters more darkly than they did." But "the reckoning will come only if admissions reform puts the efficacy of those donations in doubt."
  • "Here's one wrinkle that ... complicates the narrative. But we need to acknowledge that some of these mammoth donations, even while tendered for selfish reasons, add to a pool of money that enables these most selective schools to be need-blind when it comes to the low-income students they do admit."

🎓 Help Axios tell the #UToo story: If you have a window into a shady college practice, share it on social media with #UToo, and we'll follow up.

  • Or reach me by just replying to this email, or email us at
2. One man ran at mosque gunman
Mourners build makeshift memorial near Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch. (Vincent Yu/A

When the gunman advanced toward the New Zealand mosque, "killing those in his path, Abdul Aziz didn't hide. Instead, he picked up the first thing he could find, a credit card machine, and ran outside screaming: 'Come here!'"

  • "Aziz, 48, is being hailed as a hero for preventing more deaths during Friday prayers at the Linwood mosque in Christchurch after leading the gunman in a cat-and-mouse chase before scaring him into speeding away in his car," AP's Nick Perry writes.

Latef Alabi, the Linwood mosque’s acting imam, "said he heard a voice outside the mosque at about 1:55 p.m. and stopped the prayer he was leading and peeked out the window. He saw a guy in black military-style gear and a helmet holding a large gun, and assumed it was a police officer."

  • "Then he saw two bodies and heard the gunman yelling obscenities."
  • "He yelled at the congregation of more than 80 to get down. They hesitated. A shot rang out, a window shattered and a body fell."

"Aziz said as he ran outside screaming, he was hoping to distract the attacker. He said the gunman ran back to his car to get another gun, and Aziz hurled the credit card machine at him."

  • "The gunman returned, firing. Aziz said he ran, weaving through cars parked in the driveway, preventing the gunman from getting a clean shot at him."
3. Trump disputes rise of white nationalism
Trump yesterday signs first veto of his presidency. (White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

At an Oval Office event yesterday that began with President Trump expressing sorrow about the massacre in New Zealand, Trump was asked: "Do you see, today, white nationalism as a rising threat around the world?"

  • The president's reply: "I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems. I guess if you look at what happened in New Zealand, perhaps that's the case. I don’t know enough about it yet. They’re just learning about the person and the people involved. But it’s certainly a terrible thing. Terrible thing."
4. Pic du jour
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Visitors walk through the Vessel, a public art structure consisting of 154 intricately interconnecting flights of stairs.

  • Yesterday was opening day for Phase 1 of the Hudson Yards development on the West Side of Midtown Manhattan.
  • Book Vessel tickets.
5. 📚 Coming attractions
In 1980, Bush campaign manager James Baker stands at the podium while George H.W. Bush makes a joking gesture when told to loosen it up. (Bettmann Archive via Getty Images)

The N.Y. Times' Peter Baker and The New Yorker's Susan Glasser are finishing six years of work on a James Baker book, a full biography of his life and times, and plan publication by Doubleday next spring.

  • Peter Baker tells me that James Baker, age 88 — former Secretary of State, Secretary of Treasury and White House chief of staff — is "the last of an era of politics that has vanished in today's polarized atmosphere."
  • Why he matters: "His is also the story of Washington and how it's changed over the last couple decades, from a place where a figure like Baker could work across the aisle to overhaul Social Security and rewrite the entire tax code to a city where compromise is seen as a vice rather than a virtue."

Glasser and Baker have interviewed James Baker, his family, friends, advisers, counterparts, critics and enemies, as well as poring through his archives at Princeton and Rice Universities.

  • They have interviewed former presidents, vice presidents, cabinet secretaries and foreign leaders.
  • "It turns out everyone has a Baker story," Peter said.

Out April 30 ... Peter Baker's "Obama: The Call of History," a coffee table book issued by The N.Y. Times and Callaway in fall 2017, has been expanded into a full-fledged history of the last president before Trump changed the world.

6. 🛴 1 scoot thing
Courtesy Lyft

Lyft gave clinics in "Scootiquette" — scooter etiquette — at the South by Southwest festival in Austin this week.

  • "You're not really an asshole," the booklet says. "The madness of scootopia? It's not your fault."
  • "They were kinda sprung on you, and now they've mutated into one part transportation, one part social experiment, one part people yelling things out their car windows."

Among the pointers: Stop for crosswalks and puppies. Don't park in trees.

  • (Scoot tip: Erica Pandey)
Mike Allen