UC allegedly admitted 64 students due to connections with staff or donors, audit asserts

UC allegedly admitted 64 students due to connections with staff or donors, audit asserts

Photo Credits: Quinn Spooner / Aggie File. Mrak Hall at UC Davis.

UC Regent Richard Blum, who was named in the audit, said he recalled sending letters of recommendation to the UC Davis Chancellor’s office

An audit issued by California state auditor Elaine Howle on Sept. 22 concluded that four UC campuses—UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC San Diego and UC Santa Barbara—unfairly admitted 64 students due to their social connections to staff or donors. 

In an official statement, President of the UC Michael Drake promised a “zero-tolerance” approach to the concerns raised by the report.

“I take the findings and recommendations very seriously and will do all I can to prevent inappropriate admissions at UC,” Drake said. 

Howle’s audit said that, among the 64 students who were unfairly admitted, there was an applicant who babysat for a colleague of a former director of undergraduate admissions; an applicant whose family was friends with a regent at the UC; the child of a high-level university staff member; the child of a notable alumnus; the child of a major donor; and an applicant whose family had promised a significant donation to the university. 

“The university has not made adequate changes in response to the national college admissions scandal,” a heading in the audit said, referring to the 2019 FBI investigation, called Operation Varsity Blues, which found that numerous affluent individuals, celebrities among them, had bribed tutors and coaches to aid in their children’s acceptances to prestigious universities including UCLA and UC Berkeley.

In the audit are excerpts of emails between development office officials, coaching staff and UC donors, who appear to have pushed for unskilled applicants rejected in the regular admissions process to be accepted from the waitlist or be considered under the student athlete admissions process, among other things. 

According to the L.A. Times, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein’s husband, Richard Blum, was named in the audit as one of the individuals involved in these activities.

Blum’s representative confirmed that Blum is the regent named in the audit, which accuses him of contributing an “inappropriate letter of support” for a UC Berkeley applicant. The applicant—who was on the waitlist—was later accepted at the university.

Blum apparently wrote numerous letters of recommendation for friends and family members outside of the regular college admissions process. The Board of Regents prohibits such activities, according to the San Francisco Chronicle

Blum said that the recipients of his recommendation letters included chancellors at UC Berkeley, UC Irvine and UC Davis. Neither UC Irvine or UC Davis, however, were mentioned in the audit.

“I saw Regent Blum’s comments, but I do not recall receiving a letter of recommendation from him during my tenure as Chancellor,” Chancellor Gary May said via email. “Either he was generalizing […] or he sent such letters to previous chancellors.”

Director of News and Media Relations at UC Davis Melissa Lutz Blouin said that the university does not use letters of recommendation as part of the admissions process since it is prohibited in policies previously outlined for the regents. 

Blouin did not comment on whether any UC Davis chancellor had ever received or used such a letter from Blum, when asked if the UC Regent’s actions occurred under former Chancellor Katehi or current Chancellor May. 

UC Board of Regents Chair John Peréz said that an investigation of Blum’s alleged activities would be carried out over the course of 90 days, in accordance with Board policies. The allegations will first be investigated by a Complaint Resolution Officer (CRO) employed by the Board. 

The CRO will work independently to ascertain whether the allegations are substantiated and whether such allegations have violated Board policies. If they have, the CRO may hire another independent investigator to pursue the allegations. After the second investigation, the CRO will recommend whether sanctions or other measures should be applied. 

This is not the first time that the UC has come under fire for its admissions practices. The national college admissions scandal previously revealed unfair admittances at UCLA and UC Berkeley.

The UC conducted an audit in response to the scandal. It also proposed phasing out the use of the SAT and ACT in admissions decisions after finding that standardized test scores were often unfairly affected by race and income.

 An Alameda County Superior Court ruling last summer demanded that the requirements be halted at once, which the UC plans to challenge, requesting more time to implement these changes. 

Still, the audit stated that campuses accepted 22 of the 64 unfairly admitted students under the guise of being student athletes, even though the students actually lacked the athletic qualifications to participate in university sports. 

Thirteen of the unfairly admitted student athletes were accepted at UC Berkeley; four were accepted at UCLA; one was accepted at UC San Diego; and four were accepted at UC Santa Barbara. Only UC Berkeley and UCLA require that student athletes play on their designated team for at least a year.

The audit surmised that there may be more students accepted under false terms, since it reviewed only a portion of accepted athletes on sports teams.

“In some cases, the campus appeared to admit the applicants in exchange for donations to the athletic department,” the audit said. “A UC Berkeley coach facilitated the admission of an applicant as a prospective student athlete, even though the applicant had played only a single year of the sport in high school and at a low level of competition. After admission, the applicant’s family donated several thousand dollars to the team.” 

Of the 64 students implicated in the audit, UC Berkeley admitted 42. According to the audit, these students lacked sufficient academic qualifications for admittance, thereby “[depriving] more qualified students of the opportunity for admission.” 

It also asserted that 17 of the 42 accepted students were accepted on the basis of connections to donors or potential donors to the university. 

These applicants had received “uncompetitive ratings” from admissions officials, making them unlikely to be accepted at the university. 

The audit further emphasized a lack of consistency in the application reading process, and said that the UC Office of the President (UCOP) “has not safeguarded the university’s admissions process.” 

Written By: Rebecca Bihn-Wallace — campus@thaggie.org