Christchurch College, Oxford.

“Two things I know to be true:  there is no difference between good flan and bad flan, and there is no war in Albania.”

— William H. Macy as “CIA Agent Young” in Wag the Dog

A shameless plug there for one of my favorite movies. Not only was Macy the clueless CIA agent dressed down in Wag by Robert de Niro, but he was also clueless Oldsmobile salesman Jerry Lundegaard in another of my favorite movies, Fargo.  I have yet to see any episodes of Shameless, but any guy who can play clueless so well is… simply brilliant.  You just can’t pull off stupid unless you’re smart.  No, really.

But I was struck last month, as the big story broke about the payoffs made– and the cheating scheme embraced– by America’s well-heeled, to ensure their kids’ admission to America’s elite colleges.  As the first in a blue collar family to go to college, I had to giggle a bit because my challenge wasn’t getting accepted, it was paying for college. For thousands of college students, that’s still the worry.

As a big fan of Bill Macy, I had to wonder why, as brilliant as the father seems to be, how could his daughters’ just-as-seemingly-brilliant mother, Felicity Huffman (she of Desperate Housewives fame), think it was even necessary to pull this sort of stunt to ensure their success in life?  A head-scratcher for sure.

So charges have been filed against, among others, Huffman and the exceedingly perky Aunt Becky from Full House, Lori Loughlin.  They’ve been accused of colluding with university officials and/or buying into an SAT-cheating service, arranging big contributions in exchange for fraudulent test scores and fast-track admission to USC, Yale, Stanford… It all makes me wonder how the whole thing would play out if some of the coveted admissions slots were outside the United States.  Perhaps at Oxford or Cambridge or the Sorbonne in Paris?

Might the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) come into play?  Well, it depends.

An FCPA violation requires:

  1. a payment– literally anything of value,
  2. by a “proper person”– a U.S. citizen or entity, or any foreigner acting on that U.S. person’s behalf,
  3. to a foreign public official– including to candidate for public office or via an official’s agent/proxy,
  4. for a corrupt purpose– like, say, getting a kid into a college he would otherwise no hope of getting into.

If the foreign university in question is public, we might be looking at some FCPA icing on a garden-variety conspiracy cake.  Overseas, the status of a university isn’t as clear-cut as it might be here in the States.  Cal, Mizzou, and Rutgers are all public.  USC, NYU, Stanford, and the Ivies… all private.  Not so easy a distinction with Oxford or Cambridge.

But you have to wonder how many of the defendants in this case were also making payoffs to help little Timmy get into one of them.  The Justice Department may have yet another arrow in its quiver.


The better avenue to study opportunities in Oxford?  UMKC’s CLE Abroad program hosted over two weeks in July & August at St. Edmund Hall.