Friday, October 19, 2012

Zimny Sweep

I suspect that when Mark Zimny hung out his shingle at Ivy Admit Consulting Associates  -  “the worldwide leader in Business School and competitive University admissions consulting for international applicants”  - he did not envision that he’d end up in court, sued by a couple of parents who felt they’d been hoodwinked, who came to the ‘buyers’ remorse’ realization that ponying up $2.2 million for tutoring and advice for their high school age sons was just a tad excessive. That sometimes you don’t get what you pay for. And that greasing the skids may not be quite as simple and straightforward over here as it may be in a more under-the-table economy.

Whatever their expectations, whatever their intentions, it sounds like what happened to Gerald and Lily Chow, a well-to-do Hong Kong couple trying to navigate the American educational system and guarantee the future for their boys by getting them into an Ivy League college, should not have happened to anyone.

But what happened was that the Chows ran into Mark Zimny, who was there to help them out. And help them out of a fairly good sized cash pot.

Zimny no doubt struck them as well-credentialed. He’d been a lecturer in sociology at Harvard and a visiting assistant professor at its School of Education for a few years in the early-aughts,which may have translated to and/or for the Chows into “Harvard Professor.” His business appeared to have some references. And, however minimalist it was – even by the way-back standards of 2004, when it was apparently last updated - Ivy Admit had a web site.

The Chows were Tiger Mom savvy enough to know that, in the brave new global economy, the path to success doesn’t run through Joe Blow Community College. So why not get Zimny’s company to:

… provide tutoring and supervision while the boys attended American prep schools.

…At first, according to invoices, receipts, and financial statements, the Chows wired him at least $8,000 a month for their two boys. Then, in late 2008 and early 2009, they gave him a $2 million retainer.

In exchange, several of Zimny’s employees provided intense tutoring and miscellaneous help not only to the Chow sons, but also to their father, Gerald, a jewelry magnate. The invoices suggest that some of the employees went so far as to write papers for their clients. (Source:

I’ll get back to that Two Large in a moment, but the bit about getting Ivy Admit employees to write term papers is particularly amusing in light of 2002 article in The Harvard Crimson in which Zimny spoke about how he personally dealt with plagiarism.

Lecturer on Sociology Mark J. Zimny says he has uncovered several instances of plagiarism in his class the old-fashioned way—by getting suspicious when a paper doesn’t seem quite right.

“It’s almost like trying on a piece of clothing that isn’t made for you,” Zimny says. “It doesn’t fit the way it should.” (Source: Harvard Crimson)

Zimny went on to opine that he didn’t believe in using anti-plagiarism software.

“This is our job,” he says. Using an anti-plagiarism service “would be like sub-contracting your grading to a grading company. I think it’s our onus as faculty to...determine whether or not it’s actually genuine work.”

Which is not to imply that the term papers written by Ivy Admit were plagiarized. There’s plagiarism – which is stealing someone else’s ideas – and then there’s plagiarism – which is paying good money for someone else’s ideas. And if you can’t tell the difference…

As for $8K a month for tutoring and term paper writing for two kids?

Yowza. (Of course, when you break it down, that’s “only” $4K per kid per month which, at $100/hour – which is I’m quite sure what an Ivy Admit tutor was worth – that’s only 10 hours of tutoring, mentoring, handholding, “supervision”, and ghostwriting a week.)

The $2 million was not for term paper writing, however:

…according to a complaint and other documents the Chows filed as part of a lawsuit in US District Court in Boston, Zimny said he would grease the admissions wheels, funneling donations to elite colleges while also investing on the Chows’ behalf.

According to the suit, Zimny warned the Chows against giving to schools directly. “Embedded racism” made development offices wary of Asian donors, he allegedly advised them; better to use his company as a middleman. (Source:

Not that there’s any “embedded racism” in trying to snow job a couple of Hong Kong parents with a lot of money and not much understanding of how things rolls in the US.

Not clear if any of that $2 million made its way into any Ivy League coffers, by the way. And just how would someone position their donation as coming through a middleman? Say it was coming from an anonymous source? That wouldn’t help buy any consideration. Say that it came from Zimny himself? Ditto to that.

I guess that the Chows didn’t quite think things through.

The legal wiggle room for Zimny, no doubt, is that he was “also investing on the Chows’ behalf.”

Educational counselor and investment advisor.

Not bad for a sociology major, I must say.

Zimny’s lawyers tried to get the suit dismissed, claiming that:

…“common law counts do not serve as an insurance policy for poor judgment, avarice, or any other of many human failings.”

The Chows may have been guilty of ‘poor judgment, avarice, or any other of many human failings’, but it sure seems like they have a right to know where their $2 million went.

Although neither of their sons got into Harvard, they are at “top universities.”

Whether Harvard or another “top university”, $2 million sounds like an awful lot for helping a couple of kids finish high school and apply to college.

My cousin is a retired high school guidance counselor.

If that’s the going rate, maybe she should consider hopping back in the biz…

No comments: