CA State Auditor report alleges UC admissions are biased, unfair

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The report states that UC Berkeley admissions office staff admitted 42 nonathlete applicants between 2016 and 2018 because of their relationships to donors, campus staff or faculty, despite some receiving the 'lowest possible score' on their application and not being recommended by their initial evaluators.

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UC Berkeley has admitted 55 students, who were less qualified than those it rejected, for familial and donor connections, according to a report published Tuesday by the California State Auditor’s office.

The audit pointed to biases in the UC admissions system and alleged that 64 students from four UC campuses were admitted for their connections to UC officials, as well as for promises of large donations. The audit was requested by state Assemblymember Tasha Boerner Horvath, D-Encinitas, in May 2019 after UC Berkeley and UCLA were allegedly implicated in a national college admissions scandal.

Thirteen of the 55 UC Berkeley students were admitted as athletes, despite having “little athletic talent,” according to the report. Among the four campuses audited, UC Berkeley had the highest rates of impropriety, the report states.

“The audit only confirms what students like me have known all along: UC Berkeley’s admissions process favors privileged applicants while systematically putting students of color and low income applicants at a disadvantage,” alleged ASUC Academic Affairs Vice President Nicole Anyanwu in an email. “The UC Berkeley admissions process requires a dramatic overhaul.”

UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ called the allegations “highly disturbing” in a campuswide email Tuesday.

She said campus leadership began improving UC Berkeley’s admissions process in 2016, with new policies implemented after 2019. According to Christ, current protocols are “sound” and the campus is waiting to receive additional documents that helped inform the state auditor’s findings.

The report states that UC Berkeley admissions office staff admitted 42 nonathlete applicants between 2016 and 2018 because of their relationships to donors, campus staff or faculty, despite some receiving the “lowest possible score” on their application and not being recommended by their initial evaluators.

California State Auditor Elaine Howle also said in the report that UC Berkeley’s admissions infrastructure is insufficient. According to the report, it lacks specified criteria for applicant selection and does not provide adequate training and supervision for reviewers and faculty, making chances of admission “unduly dependent” on who evaluated the application.

“As a result of the staff members’ actions, these 42 applicants took spots that would otherwise have belonged to applicants who had received higher ratings,” the report alleges. “UC Berkeley’s leadership failed to uphold this principle (of not giving preferences based on connections) and, in doing so, failed to uphold the university’s commitment to an admissions system based on merit and achievement.”

In her campuswide email, Christ denied that UC Berkeley gives preference to students based on connections and said students are only evaluated on a “holistic review” of their application, which does not consider ties to donors.

Many students, including Anyanwu and ASUC President Victoria Vera, said they see a need to increase campus diversity in response to the report’s findings, as the 64 applicants “unfairly” admitted to the UC campuses were predominantly white and from high-income backgrounds, according to the report.

Christ said in the email that UC Berkeley recognizes there is room for improvement and will continue to refine its admissions processes. She added that campus leadership is committed to looking further into the allegations.

“These allegations, if true, are unacceptable, especially in our community where excellence, fairness and equity are our core values,” Christ said in the email.

The state auditor recommended that the UC Office of the President, or UCOP, oversee UC Berkeley’s admissions processes for at least three admissions cycles, as well as verify prospective student-athletes and develop specific protocols for selecting applicants.

It is currently unclear whether UCOP will be following the state auditor’s exact recommendations, but UC President Michael Drake said in an email that UCOP will “swiftly” address the concerns raised and discipline all individuals involved in the improper activities.

The UC system will review the audit findings and coordinate with campuses on corrective actions in the coming weeks, according to Drake. UC Berkeley spokesperson Janet Gilmore said it has not been determined whether campus will be conducting its own investigation.

Contact Kate Finman at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @KateFinman_DC.