New Revelations on Donations and Admissions

UCLA knew in 2014 about gifts that were perceived to assure admission of athletes. And its officials talked to Rick Singer, ringleader in Operation Varsity Blues, about such concerns.

April 15, 2019
 

When the admissions scandal broke last month and a coach at the University of California, Los Angeles, was among those charged with accepting bribes, UCLA announced that he had been placed on leave. Shortly after that, the coach resigned. UCLA issued a number of statements about the integrity of its admissions system, notwithstanding what one of its coaches has been charged with doing.

One of the statements said that donations can't influence the admissions process. "As a public institution, UCLA and all other campuses in the University of California system admit students solely based on the merits of their achievements. UCLA does not consider parents’ or relatives’ history of donations to the university in the admission process," said the statement.

A report in the Los Angeles Times Friday evening, however, said that in 2014 UCLA was aware of instances in which the parents of athletes made donations to UCLA's athletics department in return for the admission of their children.

In the admissions scandal that led to Justice Department indictments, parents were accused of giving money to a sham foundation that was a conduit to bribe coaches. According to the Times report, the donations examined in 2014 were directly to the university's athletics programs.

At UCLA, the Times reported, the parents of a high school senior who ran track made a donation to assure her admission. She was not considered a fast enough runner to make the UCLA team but was admitted as a recruited athlete after the parents agreed to donate $100,000 to the athletics department.

The Times based its report on a 2014 investigation by UCLA of possible links between donations and admissions decisions.

The report found that the timing of the donation, “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 a statement released to Inside Higher Ed late Saturday, UCLA largely confirmed the report on this student. According to the statement, "The [UCLA investigation] concluded that two coaches were directly responsible for policy violations, but found no wrongdoing by the student or her family. She was allowed to remain enrolled and the family ultimately completed the terms of the pledge." A development staff member's "involvement was determined to be only transactional, but exposed the need for improved policies and training," the statement said.

The UCLA statement also discusses developments after the university's investigation was completed.

"Senior Associate Athletic Director Josh Rebholz was not interviewed as part of the investigation nor was he named in the report. Following the conclusion of the investigation, former Track & Field Director Mike Maynard provided Athletic Director Dan Guerrero with a written letter revising his previous statements to the investigator and alleging for the first time that Rebholz had approached him about admitting the daughter of major donors. The information was shared with the investigator, who spoke with Maynard multiple times before determining the new information did not warrant re-opening the investigation. The family in question had no previous university giving history. No disciplinary action was deemed necessary against Rebholz."

UCLA's statement also provided details on some of the other matters referenced in the Times article.

The university review "involved the potential admission of a prospective student-athlete on the women’s water polo team. The student had been granted provisional admission, but that decision was reversed prior to a formal admission decision. During the investigation, Rick Singer was identified as a private educational consultant to the family. Singer was interviewed as part of the investigation and denied representing that admission could be gained in exchange for a financial contribution. Two coaches were determined to be directly responsible for policy violations." (Singer has been identified as the ringleader in Operation Varsity Blues and has admitted guilt in the matter.)

UCLA's statement also discussed policy changes adopted as a result of the investigation.

"At the time the track and field violation was discovered, there was no restriction on when donations could be accepted from families of prospective student-athletes," the university statement said. "UCLA Athletics recognized at that point the opportunity to strengthen its policies to prevent possible violations of UC 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."

Employees were punished for what the investigation found, UCLA's statement said. "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," the statement said. (The statement did not identify who had been punished.)

UCLA's statement also stressed differences between what it found in 2014 and the recent scandal. "UCLA took this matter seriously and strengthened its policies in the wake of it," the statement said. "While no policy violation is acceptable, it is important to note that the recent charges against UCLA’s former men’s soccer head coach are alleged to have involved criminal activity and personal enrichment that were not a component of the 2014 investigation."

When the Justice Department indictments became public last month, many higher education leaders stressed that the people involved were acting outside their authority and were duping the universities' admissions offices. Further, they suggested that the allegations in the indictments were not reflective of broad issues of dishonesty in the admissions process or of the ability of anyone to buy a spot. And those defending athletes have noted that the indictments involve people pretending to be athletes, not actual athletes.

But UCLA is the second prominent university since the scandal broke to face reports -- not tied to the indictments -- of links between financial payments and admissions decisions involving athletes.

Harvard University is investigating reports that a wealthy man bought the fencing coach's house, apparently overpaying significantly, never living in the house and then selling it for a loss. After the purchase, the man's son was admitted to Harvard and joined the team.

Read more by

Back to Top