CA State Auditor report alleges UC Regent Richard Blum inappropriately influenced campus admissions

Richard Blum
Michael Drummond/File
In a statement, UC Regent Richard Blum said he has written more than a dozen letters of recommendation for applicants seeking admission to the UC system over the past 18 years.

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UC Regent Richard Blum allegedly wrote a letter that helped a less-qualified student gain admission to UC Berkeley off the waitlist despite low scores on their application.

A report published Sept. 22 by the California State Auditor’s office found UC Berkeley admitted 55 students who were less qualified than those it rejected. According to the audit, these students were admitted because of their connections to UC staff, donors and influential individuals. Among the 55 cases, 14 students were admitted off the waitlist.

Blum allegedly wrote an “inappropriate letter of support” to Chancellor Carol Christ, which was then forwarded to the admissions office, according to the California State Auditor’s office.

“Given the low likelihood of this applicant’s admission and the prominent and influential role that Regents have within the university, we conclude that the decision to admit this applicant was likely influenced by the Regent’s advocacy,” the audit states.

According to the audit, this incident was “particularly problematic” because University of California policy states that regents should not inappropriately influence admissions decisions. Regents may send letters during the regular admissions process if it is appropriate and requested.

In a statement, Blum said he has written more than a dozen letters of recommendation for applicants seeking admission to the UC system over the past 18 years. He added that he was never informed that this was inappropriate protocol, and he never inquired about the “ultimate decisions” regarding applicants’ admissions.

“I respect the findings and concerns reflected in the audit,” Blum said in a statement. “It was never my intention to circumvent or unfairly influence the admissions process.”

UC Board of Regents chair John Pérez said he initiated a two-stage independent review under Regents Policy 1112, which guides the review of board member misconduct allegations. The investigation is expected to be completed within 90 days.

The allegation will be independently reviewed by a complaint resolution officer to assess the plausibility of the allegations, Pérez added. If warranted, the officer will hire another independent investigator before offering recommendations on actions, which could include potential sanctions.

Campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore said in an email that campus needs to see the underlying documents to determine what occurred and has been asking the California State Auditor for the documents for months.

She added that campus is not “weighing in” on the matter as it is under investigation.

“While this process moves forward, my UC colleagues and I will work to address the overarching issues raised in the Auditor’s report,” Pérez said in an email. “We will continue to review our policies to ensure full and fair opportunity for all UC applicants.”

Maria Young is a higher education reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @maria_myoung.