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Varsity schmooze at UC schools

Higher Education | A new report describes unfair admissions for students with connections
by Laura Edghill
Posted 9/30/20, 10:18 am

Some University of California schools accepted underqualified applicants in exchange for donations and other questionable conditions, according to a 76-page report released by the state auditor last week. “We conclude that the university has allowed for improper influence in admissions decisions, and it has not treated applicants fairly or consistently,” California auditor Elaine Howle wrote.

The report chronicles six years of admissions practices at four of the nine UC schools in Berkeley, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Santa Barbara. At all four, according to the auditor, “staff were sometimes overly strict or overly lenient in their review of applications, thereby making the applicants’ chances of admission unduly dependent on the individual staff who rated them rather than the students’ qualifications.”

The formal inquiry arose separately from the U.S. Justice Department’s “Varsity Blues” probe last year that led to charges against more than 50 people, including wealthy parents who paid tens of thousands of dollars for falsified test scores or fake athletic profiles to get their children into elite schools. That investigation implicated four schools in California: Stanford University, the University of San Diego, the University of Southern California, and UCLA, which belongs to the University of California system.

The auditor’s report identified 64 specific cases in which UC officials unfairly admitted students based on their personal or family connections to donors or staff. In a page from the Varsity Blues playbook, 22 of those cases presented students as athletes for sports they did not play but whose families curried favor with university officials.

“The university will swiftly address the concerns the state auditor raised,” UC President Michael Drake said. “Furthermore, individuals involved in improper activities will be disciplined appropriately. Unethical means to gain admission, as rare as they may be, run contrary to our longstanding values of equity and fairness.”

The report included several anonymous individual cases. But the auditor’s office confirmed on Thursday that one of them involved Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s financier husband, Richard Blum, who serves as a regent for the University of California. Margarita Fernández, a spokeswoman for the state auditor, said Blum wrote an “inappropriate letter of support” for an underqualified student despite university policy prohibiting regents from attempting to influence the admissions process. Blum on Saturday admitted he wrote that letter and many others but said, “No one ever told me it was wrong.”

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Laura Edghill

Laura is an education correspondent for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute and Northwestern University graduate and serves as the communications director for her church. Laura resides with her husband and three sons in Clinton Township, Mich. Follow Laura on Twitter @LTEdghill.

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