Calling all rich parents.

Matthew Modine plays Rick Singer in Operation Varsity Blues, the Netflix documentary.
Matthew Modine plays Rick Singer in “Operation Varsity Blues,” the Netflix documentary.

It’s not every day that a news story about colleges makes national headlines. It’s even rarer when those headlines are turned into a Netflix documentary, let alone one that appears in the “Popular on Netflix” slot.

It’s also unusual to see satire in The Chronicle’s pages, but here we are.

Eric Hoover said he was unsure at first about writing something on Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal, the documentary the streaming service released last month. He said he didn’t know if there was more to say, or what more he could add to the narrative. He did have a hunch that if he wrote anything, it might not be strictly serious.

After watching the doc, he began to play around with an essay written in the voice of an affluent parent, not someone with extreme wealth like the celebrities and parents in the scandal, but an affluent parent who can afford private testing, tutoring, and college counselors.

The essay does more than poke fun at rich parents or at the hype around the Varsity Blues scandal. It contrasts the surface-level scandal with daily inequities that many low-income students and parents face, Eric says. This doesn’t negate that some of the parents in the scandal committed crimes, he said. Those parents are the outliers, the extremes, and their wealth is part of what makes the documentary interesting. If you wipe away the country-club polish, the truth of what the college-admissions system looks like is less glamorous. Many more families face barriers to entry like the confusing federal-aid process, a complicated financial-aid form, and exhausted high-school counselors.

The essay prompted college presidents, scholars, and parents to email Eric saying they liked his humor and snark, and that the essay brought the points about inequity to the surface, he says. One reader wrote that satire was more effective than a straight-laced story would have been.

Don’t worry, Eric says he’s not turning in his objective-reporter badge anytime soon. Satire, like the Varsity Blues scandal, is reserved for once in a blue moon.

Read the essay here.


  • Learn. The 24-hour day breaks down into a formula for achieving work-life balance. The 8-8-8 rule gives us eight hours a day for working, leisure, and sleeping. If it’s so simple, why is it so hard to achieve? (The Guardian)
  • Read. The home-renovation network HGTV is mind-numbing, repetitive, and guarantees a happy ending. In the streaming era, its 26-year-old formula may need a renovation. (The New Yorker)
  • Listen. Don’t look now, but your pants are on fire. You’re likely to be lying more often than you realize. This podcast explains why. (Deeply Human)
  • Watch. Big-wave surfing competitions only recently allowed women to enter. This two-episode documentary, No Small Feat, follows two women preparing to ride the massive swells. (The New York Times, Redbull)


This Week‘s Top Reads