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UCLA’s hands are anything but clean in the college admission scandal

UCLA’s hands are anything but clean in the college admission scandal
Students hang at the University of California, Los Angeles campus in Westwood on Feb. 8. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

The University of Southern California has, to its shame, been at the center of the scandal that led last month to the arrest of more than a dozen people and forced a soul-searching reexamination of long-standing rules and traditions regarding college admissions. Of all the applicants who benefited when their parents allegedly bribed athletic coaches or arranged for them to cheat on college tests, half involved admissions to USC.

But now, it turns out, UCLA — USC’s less deeply implicated rival to the west — has a history itself of accepting students through its athletics program who might not have been qualified but whose parents were willing to shell out large sums of money. Not only were there the two students touted as star soccer players whose stories came out as part of last month’s indictments, but six years ago, UCLA found problems with the applications of several other recruited athletes, including one student who was accepted through its track and field program despite running times that didn’t qualify her for recruitment.

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In that case from 2013, according to an internal UCLA report obtained by The Times, the behavior wasn’t illegal. It didn’t involve a bribe to a third party but rather a donation given, legally, by the student’s parents to the athletics department.

But the $100,000 donation was part of a quid pro quo, the report found, under which the student was admitted to the school as a track athlete. This violated University of California rules, which do not allow donations to play a role in admissions. The report noted that several other athletic applicants also appeared to be linked to donations.

To its credit, UCLA learned of the situation, investigated it and produced the report. It blamed the coaches who were involved, and they were then disciplined, though the nature of their punishment was not revealed.

But even after learning of this outrageous abuse in athletic admissions, UCLA nonetheless seems to have treated it as a problem that had been contained and closed its eyes to the possibility that further underqualified students might continue to make their way into the school via the so-called side door. It never set up a bulletproof system to examine the records of athletic admissions to ensure they were legitimate.

Administrators acted like astonished victims when the bribery scandal broke last month, which either means they had conveniently forgotten UCLA’s very recent past or that it was indeed an act.

UC has said it is investigating how the current scandal reached its doors, but this revelation calls for much more. A massive review is needed — matching athletic recruits and other sidedoor admissions of the past decade with family donations at UCLA and every campus — as well as ironclad policies to prevent legal or illegal abuses in the future. UC and its Los Angeles campus have a lot to answer for here.

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