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University of California wrongly admitted well-connected students, state auditor finds

SAN FRANCISCO -- A California state audit has found that the University of California wrongly admitted at least 64 wealthy students over the past six years as favors to donors, family, and friends.

The California State Auditor also found in the audit released Tuesday that campus staff falsely designated 22 of the applicants as student-athlete recruits because of donations from or as favors to well-connected families.

One campus, the University of California, Berkeley, admitted 42 applicants through its regular admissions process based on connections to staff, leadership, and donors, but those applicants were not as qualified as others who were denied admission, the audit found.

The audit was conducted in response to the national college admissions scandal last year that embroiled prestigious universities around the country, athletic coaches and dozens of wealthy parents. Those investigations previously identified at least three students at UCLA and UC Berkeley who were improperly admitted.

UCLA men's soccer coach Jorge Salcedo was indicted on charges of racketeering conspiracy for allegedly accepting $200,000 in bribes from the scheme's mastermind, Rick Singer, in exchange for helping two students gain admission to the school as soccer players, though they didn't play the sport competitively. Salcedo pleaded guilty to one count and is expected to be sentenced next month.

At UC Berkeley, at least one student was known to have been admitted with fraudulent test scores, prosecutors allege. David Sidoo, a Canadian businessman and former professional football player, pleaded guilty to one charge of mail fraud conspiracy for paying Singer to fix entrance exams for his two sons. The younger of the two, Jordan Sidoo, attended UC Berkeley. David Sidoo was sentenced to three months in prison this summer.
Then-UC President Janet Napolitano ordered an internal investigation of all UC campuses that resulted in a sweeping list of recommendations aimed at better policing of fraud and conflicts of interest in student admissions. It called for stronger verification of claims on students' applications, reviews of potential links between donors and applicants and stricter scrutiny of students admitted for special talents, such as athletes and artists.

California State Auditor Elaine Howle found that staff were insufficiently trained and supervised in reviewing applications, which led to inconsistent reviews, and affected applicants' chances of admission.

The Office of the President has allowed weaknesses to persist for years and has not ensured the admissions policies and processes have been consistently and fairly applied from campus to campus, the audit said, and the president's office does not monitor or review admission practices across campuses.

She also recommended that the president require campuses to verify athletic talent and review donation records before admitting prospective student athletes.

UC President Michael V. Drake released the following statement:

I appreciate the time and effort the California State Auditor's (CSA) office committed to helping the University of California strengthen its admission policies. I take the findings and recommendations very seriously and will do all I can to prevent inappropriate admissions at UC. I have zero tolerance in matters of compromised integrity.

The University will swiftly address the concerns the State Auditor raised. Furthermore, individuals involved in improper activities will be disciplined appropriately.

CSA's recommendations will advance the significant progress the University has made in the past year following two internal audits, which identified many of the same issues the State Auditor raised. Campuses will leverage CSA's insights to further improve.

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

In the coming weeks, UC will conduct a thorough review of the audit findings, coordinate with campuses, and map out the necessary corrective actions. We will stay proactive and accountable, while keeping CSA, the UC community and the public apprised of our reforms.

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