… the Russian police.
It’s like Moses Herzog’s lawyer friend talking about one of his divorce cases:
First she said she didn’t want children, then she did, didn’t, did. Finally, she threw her diaphragm in his face.
The Mackenzie Fierceton story is a mess. From the word go, no one knows who did what. Did a teenager flee her physically abusive mother and spend years in a world of foster care pain? Did her mother’s boyfriend sexually abuse her? If these things happened, her escape from her family and eventual enrollment at an Ivy League school is inspiring, and she’s worth all the rewards (a Rhodes!) she got before various institutions decided she lied about her background, and demanded that she return said rewards.
A New Yorker writer seems to want to leap to her defense, but woe betide the scribe who ventures into this forest of thorns cuz, editorially speaking, she ain’t coming out alive.
The writer tries to make her accusatory headline do all the Boo, U Penn! work – HOW AN IVY LEAGUE SCHOOL TURNED AGAINST A STUDENT – but anyone willing to read all the way through her absurdly convoluted account of liars, fabulators, fantasists, and truth-stretchers is liable to end up in that Woody Alleny space where you’re scratching your head and wondering why everyone in the story seems utterly on the loose wig.
Like if you ask UD one plausible account of things features a hyper-self-dramatizing mother and daughter – two extremely strong, intense personalities having their own super-titanic, uber-Wagnerian version of ye olde crisis of adolescence. These would not be haha/poignant interactions, as in Lady Bird, but truly vile and indeed sometimes physical fights and vengeful aftermaths. (Her mother’s sister claims that Fierceton “deliberately tried to frame [her mother] and planted ‘evidence’ around the house, including her own blood.”) Eventually an angry Fierceton left home in such a way as to inflict maximum legal/reputational damage on her mother.
Even if this rendering is insufficiently sympathetic to Fierceton, it’s beyond question that she went on, in her college life, to lie about her background and circumstances in ways tailored to appeal to institutions seeking out poor (Fierceton came from a very wealthy home) and traumatized students.
See how the NY’er writer dances around not one but two Fierceton problems: 1. Lying. 2. Lying strategically for personal profit.
If trauma creates a kind of narrative void, Mackenzie seemed to respond by leaning into a narrative that made her life feel more coherent, fitting into boxes that people want to reward. Perhaps her access to privilege helped her understand, in a way that other disadvantaged students might not, the ways that élite institutions valorize certain kinds of identities. There is currency to a story about a person who comes from nothing and thrives in a prestigious setting. These stories attract attention, in part because they offer comfort that, at least on occasion, such things happen…
Um, ok. So first we need to agree that Fierceton is a traumatized person. Ok, let’s agree with that. Let’s also agree that people with shattered traumatic lives will try to make sense of them, make them cohere, overcome them, by superimposing some kind of meaningful narrative on all the shattered bits. Think of Blanche DuBois and her desperate grasping at variants on Death of the Old South narratives to account for her catastrophe (think also of the mother in Flannery O’Connor’s “Everything that Rises Must Converge.”). But where does that fitting into boxes bit come from? That search for valorized identities? Now we’ve left the human pathos of Blanche and entered the cold world of Zelig and Catch Me If You Can, right?
Penn had once celebrated her story, but, when it proved more complex than institutional categories for disadvantage could capture, it seemed to quickly disown her…
Not really complex, though. I’m thinking that much of the Rashomon problem here derives from self-aggrandizing embroidering. The obscurity of the originary mother/daughter scene has made plenty of room for attention-getting made up stuff; and indeed we can almost certainly expect, from Fierceton, yet another nightmarish personal trauma memoir which dishes out so much horror that by page 127 we start wondering how much of it is true, and how much of it is simply the sort of thing we like to lap up.
Amy Hillier, a faculty member at the social-work school, took a sabbatical from Penn because she was so disillusioned by Mackenzie’s treatment.
UD adds this sentence from the article to illustrate the little burlesque subplots that attach themselves to narratives that spin out of control. A disillusionment sabbatical?
UD thanks David.
…. for one of the more disgusting, destructive hoaxes this nation has seen. Background here.
Nobody was that shocked when, a few years ago, a Clemson administrator reported that ‘on surveys distributed by U.S. News, the Clemson brass “rates all programs other than Clemson below average.”‘ The main reaction to this revelation was laughter.
But when a math professor at Columbia accuses it of gaming rankings, things look more serious.
But still amusing. Michael Thaddeus describes, among other things, a school suddenly deciding that its entire immense medical faculty – overwhelmingly engaged in research and patient care – is actually an instructional unit.
Even on its own terms, the ranking is [for all schools] a failure because the supposed facts on which it is based cannot be trusted. Eighty percent of the U.S. News ranking of a university is based on information reported by the university itself. This information is detailed and subtle, and the vetting conducted by U.S. News is cursory enough to allow many inaccuracies to slip through. Institutions are under intense pressure to present themselves in the most favorable light. This creates a profound conflict of interest, which it would be naive to overlook… Even as Columbia has [lately] soared to 2nd place in the ranking, there is reason for concern that its ascendancy may largely be founded, not on an authentic presentation of the university’s strengths, but on a web of illusions.
So nu, so far John Wilson is just a capitalist, and a morally exemplary one at that. He doesn’t seem to have, for instance, stolen billions of dollars from poor Malaysians. He just bribed a dude to make sure his three dumdum kids got into good colleges. By prevailing Goldman Sachs standards, his lying, cheating, and depriving actually worthy applicants of a seat at Stanford, is petty crime at best.
So he got a pretty petty sentence – a year and some change in jail.
But Elizabeth Kimmel, whose endless criminal prevarication has ruined her life and the lives of her children, merits it. The latest Varsity Blues parent to go to jail, Kimmel knew no bounds when it came to rigging bogus admission to hot schools for her dumb rich kids.
Or are they dumb? Her insane machinations condemn them to this judgment; and yet in the case of her daughter at least, a letter has surfaced that suggests otherwise. Kimmel’s lawyers of course described her throughout as motivated by pure philanthropy as she handed hundreds of thousands of dollars to corrupt, now also imprisoned, college coaches; but prosecutors had other ideas about her character.
‘In their pre-sentence memo, federal prosecutors disputed the Kimmel camp’s sunny view of the wealthy La Jollan’s charitable disposition, citing an e-mail authored by an unnamed Bishop’s faculty member. [Bishop is the high school the daughter attended.]
Days after [Kimmel’s] arrest in this case, a teacher at her children’s high school, unprompted, sent [Kimmel] the following e-mail:
“Attached is the college letter of recommendation I wrote for [your daughter] six years ago.
“‘Without a single reservation, I believed in her qualifications— her powerful intellect, her uncompromising sportsmanship, her sterling character — when you did not.
“‘Many of the faculty at Bishop’s — I could list ten off the top of my head — remember you as boorish, your treatment of us demeaning, insulting, unprincipled.
“‘But we loved your children and, in spite of their parents, always had their best interests at heart.
“’To that end, please forward my letter to [your daughter].”‘
And, sad as it is to say this, given that letter about her, UD will add that Georgetown should rescind her degree.
… here are UD‘s Jussie Smollett posts from 2019, when the story broke. A most contemptible man.
It was too hard to believe that any of this could be made up, because what kind of person would do something like this?
A former supporter of Smollett’s gets to the heart of so many hoaxes – from people (many of them academics) pretending to be minorities, to people pretending to have been physically attacked because of their minority status. You have to be one sick fuck to conceive of this behavior, let alone pull it off, and then sustain the hoax into the indefinite future. What kind of person…?
But our job is not to stand around being incredulous. After all of the destructive hoaxers we’ve encountered over the last few years, and in anticipation of others, we owe it to our social world to educate ourselves in the ways of our Smolletts and Bourassas. We have to try to see them coming. As UD has often said (having covered such hoaxers on this blog for a long time), one common tip-off is trying too hard. These people lay it on too thick: They claim large and proliferating minority memberships (tribal, ethnic, etc.); they claim the people who beat them up did this and did that and oh yeah I just remembered they did that too… Look into almost any recent high-profile hoax and you see this characteristic of overdoing, overkill, as if the hoaxer fears insufficient minoritization/torment will fail to convince. Or – just as likely – their motive isn’t really a motive at all, but rather an uncontrolled manifestation of their madness. Nuts don’t act in measured ways.
Update: A Smollett juror illustrates the peril of overdoing.
An April 2021 Bloomberg article says he remains a $300,000 a year tenured professor there, though he hasn’t taught or published research since 2018.
And he was just found guilty of enough fraud to send him to prison for 25 years.
Wow. Bill Cosby, Moshe Porat. Temple really knows how to pick ’em.
In the case of Bernie Madoff, it was Harry Markopolos, who knew instantly, easily, that he was looking at a Ponzi scheme.
In the littler case of Temple University’s Moshe Porat, who wangled a number one ranking for the university’s business school by similarly brazen malfeasance, it took John Byrne, founder of Poets & Quants, no time at all for grotesque numbers to jump out at him.
[O]nly 16% of students at the University of Maryland’s business school had submitted scores on the GMATs or GREs. At the University of North Carolina’s business school, only 15% did. Both schools show large enrollment increases that year…
“Contrast these numbers with number one Temple,” [John Byrne] wrote. “Temple was able to increase its online MBA enrollment by an impressive 57% to 546 students from 351. Yet, the school claimed that 100% of the incoming class provided either a GMAT score or a GRE.”
Of course, that 100% figure turned out to be false. It was actually 42 of 255 students, or 16%.
Porat [and others] falsified how many students had taken standardized test scores to get in, faked incoming students’ GPAs, made it appear the college was more selective than it was and lowered how much its graduates owed in loans, according to the indictment.
Mike Shirkey’s real, real, real, sorry! Dint mean nuthin by it. Just thinkin out loud and all. Free country.
One of thousands of bogus holocaust survivor stories, Mischa Defonseca’s (a made-up name to go with her made-up story) got covered on University Diaries a few years back because the bogus story was so immediately, so obviously, bullshit (parentless, she was raised by wolves; at the age of seven she stabbed a Nazi to death) and yet she got very far with it indeed. Made a lot of money off of it. Oprah came calling.
Which seemed odd to UD at the time, but of course now in l’age du Trump … I mean, UD has come to understand that millions of people will believe anything…
Though to be entirely honest some teeny mewling desperately rational part of her still resists this knowledge…
Anyway, there’s a new Sundance film all about this lovely person; and if your idea of a good time is a couple of hours in her world, go for it.
UD’s own brush with holocaust-liar fame: She was a student of Paul de Man’s when he was a visiting professor at the University of Chicago.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tx., who currently finds himself in an unusually competitive race against Democratic opponent MJ Hegar, previously falsely represented himself as a graduate of Oxford University in England in the run-up to his successful election to the Texas Supreme Court, press and public records show.
In Texas politics, the word “intellectual” [or (God forbid) “professor”] is the equivalent of saying “fucks goats.” So why would Cornyn want to claim such a thing – and a foreign thing – in the first place? Texans are looking to elect people like Rick Perry, a cheerleader at Texas A&M.