Finally, the New York Times Does Some Real Reporting — On the Diversity Admissions Scam at Elite U.S. Colleges
Good job shitlibs and conservatives, the farce below is on you. — DM
T.M. Landry, a school in small-town Louisiana, has garnered national attention for vaulting its underprivileged black students to elite colleges. But the school cut corners and doctored college applications.
by Erica L. Green and Katie Brenner
BREAUX BRIDGE, La. — Bryson Sassau’s application would inspire any college admissions officer.
A founder of T.M. Landry College Preparatory School described him as a “bright, energetic, compassionate and genuinely well-rounded” student whose alcoholic father had beaten him and his mother and had denied them money for food and shelter. His transcript “speaks for itself,” the founder, Tracey Landry, wrote, but Mr. Sassau should also be lauded for founding a community service program, the Dry House, to help the children of abusive and alcoholic parents. He took four years of honors English, the application said, was a baseball M.V.P. and earned high honors in the “Mathematics Olympiad.”
The narrative earned Mr. Sassau acceptance to St. John’s University in New York. There was one problem: None of it was true.
“I was just a small piece in a whole fathom of lies,” Mr. Sassau said.
T.M. Landry has become a viral Cinderella story, a small school run by Michael Landry, a teacher and former salesman, and his wife, Ms. Landry, a nurse, whose predominantly black, working-class students have escaped the rural South for the nation’s most elite colleges. A video of a 16-year-old student opening his Harvard acceptance letter last year has been viewed more than eight million times. Other Landry students went on to Yale, Brown, Princeton, Stanford, Columbia, Dartmouth, Cornell and Wesleyan.
Landry success stories have been splashed in the past two years on the “Today” show, “Ellen” and the “CBS This Morning.” Education professionals extol T.M. Landry and its 100 or so kindergarten-through-12th-grade students as an example for other Louisiana schools. Wealthy supporters have pushed the Landrys, who have little educational training, to expand to other cities. Small donors, heartened by the web videos, send in a steady stream of cash.
In reality, the school falsified transcripts, made up student accomplishments and mined the worst stereotypes of black America to manufacture up-from-hardship tales that it sold to Ivy League schools hungry for diversity. The Landrys also fostered a culture of fear with physical and emotional abuse, students and teachers said. Students were forced to kneel on rice, rocks and hot pavement, and were choked, yelled at and berated.
The Landrys’ deception has tainted nearly everyone the school has touched, including students, parents and college admissions officers convinced of a myth.
The colleges “want to be able to get behind the black kids going off and succeeding, and going to all of these schools,” said Raymond Smith Jr., who graduated from T.M. Landry in 2017 and enrolled at N.Y.U. He said that Mr. Landry forced him to exaggerate his father’s absence from his life on his N.Y.U. application.
“It’s a good look,” these colleges “getting these bright, high-flying, came-from-nothing-turned-into-something students,” Mr. Smith said.
This portrait of T.M. Landry emerged from interviews with 46 people: parents of former Landry students; current and former students; former teachers; and law enforcement agents. The New York Times also examined student records and court documents showing that Mr. Landry and another teacher at the school had pleaded guilty to crimes related to violence against students, and police records that included multiple witness statements saying that Mr. Landry hit children. The Breaux Bridge Police Department closed the case after deciding it was outside of its jurisdiction.
“That dream you see on television, all those videos,” said Mr. Sassau’s mother, Alison St. Julien, “it’s really a nightmare.” . . .
Mr. Landry, 49, and Ms. Landry, 50, say that education lifted them from their impoverished childhoods in Breaux Bridge, near Lafayette. Ms. Landry got a nursing degree. Mr. Landry got his bachelor’s degree from the University of Southwestern Louisiana, which was later renamed the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He was a salesman and, from 2002 through 2004, a certified teacher.
The couple started T.M. Landry in 2005 as a home-school for their son and five children. The early results were not good. Two of the six students ended up in prison, Mr. Landry said. But the couple continued to recruit students from area churches, telling parishioners that teaching was their calling. . .
After each viral video and media appearance, donors including wealthy executives and older Americans on fixed incomes sent money. T.M. Landry took in more than $250,000 in donations this year, a portion of which was earmarked by the donors for tuition assistance, according to records of the donations obtained by The Times.
But the school has not yet offered any scholarships, said Greg Davis, a T.M. Landry board member. Mr. Landry said donations were put into a general account, but he declined to say how the money was spent.
To many T.M. Landry families, tuition is not cheap — about $600 a month, or $7,200 annually. Mr. Landry’s annual salary has averaged about $86,000, according to four bankruptcy filings, which he says were driven by all of the tuition that he and his wife have covered. . .
Mr. Landry told students that he would ruin their futures if they left the school or told anyone what happened there, according to 20 current and former students interviewed and Terica Fuselier, a former teacher. They said that Mr. Landry threatened to alter or withhold their transcripts, or force them to enroll in a lower grade. Retaliation was a constant worry for students and teachers, Ms. Fuselier said. . .
Mr. Landry also convinced students that he had special relationships with college deans, particularly at Harvard, and that he could use them to help students get into college — or to keep them out. He told students that college officers observed them through the school’s security cameras, and that the universities were so involved with the school that they set T.M. Landry’s tuition rates.
“Alleged statements made by Mr. Landry seriously misrepresent his relationship, and that of the T.M. Landry School, with the Harvard College admissions office,” said Rachael Dane, a Harvard spokeswoman. Dartmouth and Stanford said that they had no role in the operations of T.M. Landry. St. John’s, Wesleyan, Cornell and N.Y.U. also said that they had no special relationship with Landry. Claims of observing the school through security cameras were absurd, the colleges said.
“We will look into the issues raised by this reporting,” said John H. Beckman, a spokesman at N.Y.U.
A half-dozen current and former students said that Mr. Landry told them to lie on their college applications. In exchange for students’ loyalty, Mr. Landry produced glowing transcripts, including what several students said were high marks in advanced coursework they never took.
“He was pulling all of the information out of thin air,” Bryson Sassau said.
Only this week did Mr. Sassau see the application that the Landrys submitted to St. John’s on his behalf. He was stunned and angry about the fabrications. His father paid child support and had never beat him nor his mother, unlike the abusive parent described.
Bryson Sassau had never started an organization called the Dry House — he had never even heard of it — and had never taken the classes or earned the accolades listed. . .
Some students still cry when they discuss their experiences at T.M. Landry.
“I really should have said something,” Ms. Malveaux said. “This isn’t what I wanted my life to be or what I want it to be about. I didn’t want to be part of the lies, and watching kids be abused and not do anything. I was so brainwashed.”
Parents have been consumed with guilt.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow,” Doresa Barton said. “You always like to think you would never let anything happen to your children.”
Ms. Thomas, the grandmother, said she felt like the Landrys preyed on their own community. “We expect that of other people, but we had an African-American who was one of us and seemed to be doing right by us, and it was a sham,” she said. . .
This month, the Landrys announced that they would open another school in the town of Opelousas, about 45 minutes from Breaux Bridge. The announcement rattled T.M. Landry families.
“How do you look your son in the face every day and tell him that this person is going to get what’s coming to him, or he’s going to get his punishment, when every other day you see something else that this person is doing, or they’re on to another school, or he’s on TV?” Ms. Mitchell said.
The graduates face an uncertain future. Mr. Smith at N.Y.U. and Bryson Sassau at St. John’s both plan to take G.E.D. exams as a precaution after hearing that other Landry graduates left their colleges to return to Louisiana — only to find that their high school diplomas were not accepted at local colleges or for internships. . .
* * *
Source: The New York Times