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The Real USC Scandal is How Democrat Politicians, Not Celebs, Got In
What a $95,000 scholarship for a congressional Castro supporter reveals about academic corruption.
By Daniel Greenfield
Daniel Greenfield is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center whose work focuses on the Left and Islamic terrorism.
The arrest of Los Angeles Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas over a bribery scheme was nothing special. Recent arrests and indictments have decimated the ranks of the Cincinnati and Detroit city councils. The corruption of urban Democrat machines is a dog bites man story and the responsibility of those machines for much of the misery they blame on the myth of “systemic racism” may well be the single most underreported story in the establishment media.
What makes the Ridley-Thomas arrest stand out is that the bribe was academic.
Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, Mark’s son, had followed his father into Democrat politics, and was elected to the California State Assembly before being accused of sexual harassment. The second generation of the Democrat dynasty was falling apart and Sebastian stepped down while blaming health problems. The health problems didn’t prevent him from creating Millennial Advisors, and the Policy, Research and Practice Initiative to “research” black voters.
And he got a job at the University of Southern California.
USC named Sebastian a “professor of practice of policy and social work” and also gave him a scholarship to study for a master’s in social work. Prosecutors allege that Marilyn Flynn, the dean of USC’s School of Social Work, and a major donor to Mark Ridley-Thomas, told “multiple USC officials about Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, explaining who his father was and saying his admission should be given the highest priority.”
An hour earlier, the dean had been told that a $9 million contract was ready to go.
Flynn urged USC figures to rush it through “in the interests of showing MRT that we can deliver.” The indictment emails show the USC dean greedily salivating that, “there are significant amounts of county funds available” and “should give us $1M each year for three years.”
Where was that money coming from? Contracts with the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services and Department of Mental Health. Some of the most vulnerable members of society, the people whom the Democrats and the USC social workers claimed to be protecting were actually being used as counters in a corrupt scheme to enrich Democrats.
The whole thing came apart when the Mark Ridley-Thomas Committee for a Better L.A. funneled $100,000 through the USC School of Social Work to Sebastian’s Policy, Research and Practice Initiative. Whistles were blown and both Mark and Marilyn Flynn were busted.
Despite the massive abuse of taxpayer money, the corruption of both government and academia by the largest social work program in the country and a Democrat dynasty, this USC scandal has received practically no coverage outside the local media. The difference between the national media’s gleeful coverage of allegations that B-list celebs had bent the rules to get their kids into USC and this much more serious case is strikingly revealing. And it’s not over.
While Mark Ridley-Thomas may be an obscure name to most people outside Los Angeles, that’s not the case with Rep. Karen Bass, a member of Congress, who had been touted as one of the top two Biden VP picks, and is considered a front-runner to become LA’s next mayor.
Bass, a Castro supporter with Communist ties (“‘I’m Not a Communist’: Potential Biden Running Mate Reassures” an NBC News headline had read last year) hasn’t been charged with anything, but her case is in some ways even more curious than that of Sebastian.
The lefty House Democrat had received an unsolicited $95,000 tuition award from the USC School of Social Work allowing her to “earn” an online master’s degree.
The Los Angeles Times noted that, “some of her coursework was supervised by a prominent campaign donor who was also a USC professor at the time”. Flynn, “offered the scholarship to Bass even though she had not directly applied to the social work program.”
Flynn approached Bass and offered her a “scholarship” that was not available to students. The USC School of Social Work dean claimed that Bass was chosen because she “demonstrated an exceptional potential for contribution to the field” and had “obvious leadership skills.”
What did Flynn actually expect from Bass’ “contribution to the field”? Good question. Just don’t expect the same national news media that was defending Bass over her support for Castro and other Communists to ask any such basic questions even while the Castroite runs for mayor.
The LA Times also noted that, “The full value of Bass’ scholarship was not listed on her congressional disclosure forms until 2019, when forms from several years were amended and a total of more than $80,000 in free tuition was added to her gift disclosures.”
Academia’s lefty bias is nothing new, but USC represents a more complicated financial entanglement with the Democrats. The university spends half a million a year on lobbying, it takes in millions in government contracts, and its faculty, administrators and other employees plowed over $2.6 million into political campaigns in 2020 alone. The vast majority of that money, 96.5% or nearly $1.8 million donated to federal election candidates, went to Democrats.
The USC School of Social Work had grown so big because of an online “deal with the devil” that the university had struck with 2U, a multi-billion dollar online education platform founded and run by Christopher “Chip” Paucek who had served as the deputy campaign manager for Democrat Senator Barbara Mikulski. (Another Mikulski alum is Democrat political consultant Bob Shrum, who heads the USC Dornsife Center for the Political Future, and was quoted by the LA Times.)
USC and 2U offered a $115,000 online social work master’s degree, aggressively targeting minority and underperforming students with GPAs as low as 2.5 and leaving them with huge debts and low income careers. 2U allegedly got 60% of the revenue from the program which helped make it a huge player in the online education space while USC was left with the debt.
Mass education and the welfare state have proven to be quite profitable for Democrat elites while poisoning everything that they touch and leaving broken lives in their wake.
The real scandal at USC was the familiar one of Democrat elites exploiting black people in the name of empowering them and black leaders happily participating in the program. Some of the damage was passed along to taxpayers in the form of scholarships, and the varied players were able to move money around to each other until a few of the players became too brazen.
It’s a much bigger scandal than a Full House cast member trying to get her daughter into USC.
Marilyn Flynn, now the USC School of Social Work’s former dean, has been indicted, and pled not guilty. Mark Ridley-Thomas also pled not guilty and was suspended from the Los Angeles City Council. In a bizarre arrangement, his chief of staff is serving as the district’s “caretaker”.
But it’s implausible that Flynn or Ridley-Thomas acted alone. In their alleged corrupt actions, they consulted and coordinated with multiple USC and local government officials. This isn’t the story of a few corrupt people, but a corrupt system which exploits those it claims to be helping.
How did Rep. Karen Bass, with her six figure government salary, qualify for a $95,000 scholarship? Don’t ask USC whose spokesperson sneered that they had no idea, “what policies and procedures were in place at the School of Social Work 10 years ago.”
The cynicism is almost as breathtaking as the corruption.