Margarita Fernández, a spokeswoman for the California State Auditor’s office, confirmed in an email to The Washington Post that Blum was the regent involved in an incident detailed earlier this week through an audit that sharply criticized the UC system’s admissions processes.
The audit, released Tuesday, did not name Blum. It asserted that the regent failed to follow a university policy requiring any recommendations from a board member to be sent to a given campus through the regular admissions process. Instead, according to the audit, the regent sent a letter of advocacy to UC-Berkeley’s chancellor after the applicant had been placed on a waiting list. The letter was then routed to the school’s development office and, from there, to the admissions office.
The applicant was admitted, the audit said, despite having “only about a 26 percent chance” of getting into UC-Berkeley based on reviews from admission readers. The audit found the incident “particularly problematic.”
Blum did not immediately return a telephone message left at his office seeking comment. He could not be reached Thursday evening through the office of the Board of Regents.
The San Jose Mercury News reported Blum did not recall the letter but was unapologetic. Blum, who holds two degrees from UC-Berkeley and has been a UC regent since 2002, told the Mercury News that he has written numerous letters of recommendation in his years on the board.
“This is the first time I’ve heard that maybe I did something that wasn’t right,” Blum was quoted as saying. “I think it’s a bunch of nonsense.”
The audit examined UC admissions records and raised questions about 64 applicants admitted over six academic years ending in 2018-2019. Most of the examples were connected to UC-Berkeley admissions, and the rest involved UCLA, UC-San Diego and UC-Santa Barbara.
The admissions in the 64 cases were “based on inappropriate factors,” the audit said, including family donations to the University of California and relationships with campus staff. The audit also cited “weak athletic admissions processes” that gave an edge to some of the applicants even though they had “little athletic talent.”
Most of the 64 were White and at least half came from families with annual incomes of $150,000 or more. The audit charged that UC-Berkeley’s leadership had “failed to establish a campus culture that values commitment to an admissions process based on fairness and applicants’ merits and achievements.”
On Tuesday, UC-Berkeley issued a statement saying the auditor’s report “contains numerous highly disturbing allegations of improper conduct in our undergraduate admissions work.” The university said “excellence, fairness and equity are our core values,” and it pledged an internal review. “We are committed to getting to the bottom of this,” the university said.
UC-Berkeley also said it has strengthened its admissions practices in recent years. “While we know that there is always room for improvement — and that any policy depends on individuals acting with integrity — we have confidence that our current admissions policies and protocols are sound,” the university said.
In the most recent admissions cycle, UC-Berkeley received more than 88,000 applications for freshman admission and offered seats to 17.6 percent. It is one of the most prominent and competitive public universities in the world.
On Thursday, asked about the Blum letter, UC-Berkeley spokeswoman Janet Gilmore wrote in an email that the university needs more information about the allegations in the audit. “We are still awaiting the underlying documents from the auditor and consequently are not in a position to weigh in on the matter at this time,” Gilmore wrote.
John Pérez, chair of the Board of Regents, said in a statement: “The UC Board of Regents takes these matters very seriously and any violations will be promptly and appropriately addressed.” He added: “Once the Board determines and carefully evaluates the facts of the case, we will comment on the outcome and will further review if any changes in policy are called for.”.
Responding Tuesday to the audit, UC system President Michael V. Drake said in a statement: “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.”
At colleges and universities across the country, admissions offices commonly receive recommendations from board members, graduates and others. Those recommendations can fuel perceptions that insiders have an edge at highly competitive schools. Admissions leaders, however, say they go to great lengths to guard against undue influence.
Since last year, a bribery and cheating scandal unfolding in federal court in Boston has exposed particularly egregious cases of corruption in admissions. The cases, uncovered through an investigation named Varsity Blues, centered on wealthy parents who paid large sums of money to bankroll a scheme in which their children secured admission to prominent universities as phony athletic recruits.