Stanford Announces New Athletics Admissions Reforms | Athletic Business

Stanford Announces New Athletics Admissions Reforms

Stanford University president Marc Tessier-Lavigne reports that an external review commissioned in the wake of Operation Varsity Blues found no evidence of additional fraud at Stanford but made recommendations for policies and procedures that the university will fully adopt.

In his letter to the Stanford community dated Dec. 3, Tessier-Lavigne points out that a former head sailing coach at Stanford pleaded guilty to charges that he accepted financial contributions to the Stanford sailing program in exchange for agreeing to recommend two prospective students for admission to Stanford. Neither of these two students was admitted to Stanford. The sailing coach was one of seven directly or indirectly approached by the nationwide admissions scam architect Rick Singer, but the only one who agreed to work with Singer. The university also rescinded the admission of an enrolled student, not associated with the sailing program, who was found in the investigation to have submitted an application to Stanford containing false information.

After the Operation Varsity Blues story broke, Stanford took several immediate actions. It verified that Stanford had received no other contributions from the foundation implicated in the government’s investigation; it implemented a second-level review process to confirm the athletic credentials of all recruited student-athletes; and it developed enhanced controls in the university’s gift acceptance process.

Finally, Stanford contracted with the international law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, which interviewed more than 55 people and obtained and reviewed more than 35,000 records. It offered further recommendations to ward off future misconduct in addition to measures the university had already taken, and Tessier-Lavigne writes that Stanford "embraces" them. These include:

  • Adoption of a formal written policy codifying Stanford’s approach to donations and athletic recruits. To be clear, our position and practice is this: Admission of any applicant, student-athlete or not, cannot be bought, and no donor should ever be under the impression that it can. We are currently codifying this practice into a formal written policy to ensure clarity and transparency.
  • Adoption of a written policy clarifying that fundraising results are not considered as part of a coach’s performance evaluation.
  • A requirement that development officers independently verify the source and purpose of significant donations to the Athletic Department.
  • A requirement that coaches flag to Admissions and the Office of Development any case in which a recruit came to their attention through a third-party recruiter or consultant and the name of that person.
  • If Athletics personnel have concerns about the ethical behavior of a third-party individual, the concerns should be elevated and investigated to determine if the individual should be on a watch list to ensure increased attention by others interacting with the individual.
  • Enhanced training for coaches on the fundraising process and the new gift acceptance policies being developed.
  • Better communication and information sharing among coaches, Athletics administrators and the Office of Development. This includes establishing a clear delineation of responsibilities between development officers, coaches and sports administrators and a requirement that, in addition to the coach and Athletics personnel, an Office of Development official must meet with a prospective donor.

Another review process will be conducted within the next 18 months to ensure that the recommendations have been implemented and are having the desired effect. Moreover, Stanford is moving to redistribute the $770,000 in funds that came to Stanford through Singer’s foundation, likely to an entity or entities supporting financially challenged high school students who are seeking financial support and enhanced preparation toward their college admission. 

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