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College Admissions Scandal: Student Lawsuit Against Yale, Georgetown, Others Unlikely to Be Effective Recourse, Legal Scholar Says

A lawsuit against universities prompted by the Department of Justice's announcement of indictments in an admissions bribery scandal is unlikely to provide recourse, a law professor told Newsweek. 

The Department of Justice announced charges on Tuesday against 50 people, including 33 parents, for using wealth to manipulate the college admissions process. Defendants are accused of facilitating cheating on tests to get into college. University sports coaches were also accused of taking large sums of money to exaggerate students' athletic capacities.

High profile figures like Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were both charged by federal authorities. The government has declined to charge students, saying they were unaware of the actions being taken by their parents, according to The New York Times. 

Stanford students Erica Olson and Kalea Woods filed a lawsuit on Wednesday alleging they were prevented from getting fair opportunity to be admitted elite colleges. The suit, which named schools including Yale University, Georgetown University and the University of Southern California as defendants, also said that their Stanford degrees were devalued because employers might question if they were admitted on merit or because of bribery.

"As these students don’t seem to be making a civil rights claim, I don’t see litigation as the route to preventing this from happening again," Stephen Sugarman, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, told Newsweek, noting that the indictments had not targeted university administrators.

"At the time [Olsen] applied, she was never informed that the process of admission was an unfair, rigged process, in which rich parents could buy their way into the university through bribery," the complaint says, according to BuzzFeed News. "Had she known that the system at Yale University was warped and rigged by fraud, she would not have spent the money to apply to the school. She also did not receive what she paid for — a fair admissions consideration process."

Sugarman cast doubt on the framing of the lawsuit. 

"I don’t see how one or even a handful of improperly admitted other students to Stanford devalues the degrees these students will earn. I don’t see this as making Stanford less desirable a school to attend," he told Newsweek. "Getting all of these schools to promise not to be bribed in the future seems silly. Of course, none wanted employees in athletic positions to sell admissions slots. Maybe they could have done a better job managing the admissions process. This scandal should itself cause them to be more careful in the future."

GettyImages-1130156550 Actress Felicity Huffman is seen inside the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Los Angeles on March 12. DAVID MCNEW/AFP/Getty Images

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