The University of Southern California has garnered much of the attention in the college admissions scandal, but new revelations indicate rival UCLA was aware of cash-for-admissions arrangements on its campus dating back to 2014.
The Los Angeles Times reported Friday afternoon that a high school senior whose personal-best time in the 800 meters wasn't nearly fast enough to secure a spot on a major college track-and-field roster, and who wasn't even known by UCLA's coach, nonetheless gained admission to UCLA as a recruited athlete. The reason? Her parents pledged $100,000 to the university's athletic department.
UCLA completed an internal investigation in July 2014, a year after the individual began taking classes at the university. The Times reviewed the confidential report, written by the director of UCLA’s administrative policies and compliance office, and found that UCLA knew of allegations that parents were pledging donations to its athletic program in exchange for their children being admitted to the university years before the 2019 scandal that has ensnared several prestigious institutions from coast to coast. Dozens of administrators, coaches and parents have been charged.
The UCLA investigation determined in the case of the track recruit that the timing of the pledge by the parents "together with the revelation that she was intended to be only a manager, in violation of the department recruitment and admission policy, removes any reasonable doubt that the contribution from the parents was obtained quid pro quo for the daughter's admission." In addition, UCLA's investigation uncovered a provisional admission to the women's water polo program that was subsequently reversed. The latter case involved Rick Singer, the so-called ringleader in many of the bribery cases involved in the current nationwide scandal. A third focus of the investigation looked at donations made by the families of tennis walk-ons, but found no violations.
What happened at UCLA in 2014 is different than the wider bribery scandal in that the money was donated to UCLA's athletics program and did not break any laws, according to the Times.
On Saturday, UCLA issued a statement in response to the Times article. It read, in part, "At the time the track & field violation was discovered, there was no restriction on when donations could be accepted from families of prospective student-athletes. UCLA Athletics recognized at that point the opportunity to strengthen its policies to prevent possible violations of UC [University of California Board of Regents] policy. Immediately in the wake of the investigation and its findings, UCLA Athletics implemented a policy that a donation could not be accepted from families of prospects until the student-athlete is enrolled at UCLA. Athletic department staff was educated about the policy, and additional education of the coaching and development staffs also took place regarding the prohibition of any discussion of donations prior to admission.
"Subsequently, additional policy changes included requiring athletic department officials to perform an athletic qualifications check for walk-ons. Similar checks for scholarship student-athletes were deemed unnecessary at the time, based on the belief that any scholarship recipient would far exceed requirements for athletic abilities. Additionally, a family University giving history check was implemented for walk-ons.
"The entire matter was scrutinized by numerous University departments, including Human Resources, Legal Affairs and the campus Administrative Policies and Compliance Office, in addition to the Department of Athletics. UCLA took this matter seriously and strengthened its policies in the wake of it."
UCLA also stated, "In accordance with the balance of evidence that was available, and as a result of the investigation, disciplinary action was taken against employees deemed responsible in the report for violating policy," though it didn't provide specifics regarding discipline.
But not everyone is buying UCLA's explanation. The Daily Bruin student newspaper's editorial board wrote Sunday, "There’s no mincing words: This is straight-up bribery. And the fact that it was permitted and even allegedly encouraged by administrators makes it obvious UCLA is comically corrupt."