University of California 'unfairly admitted' applicants based on connections: Report

lucentius/iStockBy MEREDITH DELISO, ABC News

(LOS ANGELES) — The University of California “unfairly admitted” dozens of well-connected applicants at several campuses, according to a state audit released Tuesday.

The state auditor looked at four of the system’s 10 campuses from the academic years 2013-14 through 2018-19 and determined that UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC San Diego and UC Santa Barbara admitted 64 applicants based on what the audit said was “their families’ donations to campuses or their connections to campus staff, leadership, and donors.”

Twenty-two applicants were admitted through the campuses’ student-athlete admissions processes, “even though the students did not have the athletic qualifications to compete at the university,” California State Auditor Elaine M. Howle said in the report.

“Campus staff falsely designated 22 of these applicants as student‑athlete recruits because of donations from or as favors to well‑connected families,” the report said.

UC Berkeley admitted the remaining 42 students, “most of whom were referred to the admissions office because of their families’ histories as donors or because they were related or connected to university staff, even though their records did not demonstrate competitive qualifications for admission,” Howle said.

The 64 applicants included the child of a major donor, the child of a prominent alumnus, and someone whose family promised a large donation, according to the report.

“By admitting 64 noncompetitive applicants, the university undermined the fairness and integrity of its admissions process and deprived more qualified students of the opportunity for admission,” Howle said.

In a statement, UC President Michael V. Drake said he took the state auditor’s findings “very seriously” and promised that he “will do all I can to prevent inappropriate admissions at UC.”

“I have zero tolerance in matters of compromised integrity,” he said.

In total, UC schools admitted 119,054 freshmen and 28,074 transfer students this year, according to the school system.

The report found a lack of “adequate oversight” from the office of the president in the campuses’ admissions processes and advised that stronger standards and oversight are needed to prevent “inappropriate admissions decisions.”

By the 2021-22 admissions cycle, the state auditor recommends that UC require that schools “verify their athletic talents and review donation records for indicators of inappropriate activity”; “establish and follow predetermined criteria for how they will select the applicants they admit”; and “establish proficiency standards for application reviewers and monitor those reviewers’ ratings for consistency,” among other recommendations.

Drake said UC will “swiftly” address the auditor’s concerns and discipline those who behaved improperly.

“Our entire organization is committed to a level playing field for every applicant,” he said. “Unethical means to gain admission, as rare as they may be, run contrary to our longstanding values of equity and fairness.”

The state auditor’s report joins a nearly year-long internal audit of UC admissions processes in the wake of a nationwide college admissions scandal dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues.” Criminal charges were filed against more than 50 people, including Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, making it the largest college cheating scam ever prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice.

As a result of the investigation, a former men’s soccer coach at UCLA pleaded guilty in July to accepting $200,000 in bribes in exchange for helping two students get into the school, one of whom was admitted. Investigators also alleged that a student was admitted to UC Berkeley using fraudulent standardized test scores. The student’s father was sentenced in July, the Associated Press reported.

The 64 applicants cited by the California state auditor were in addition to the two admissions identified in the federal investigation, the report said.

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