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UCLA administrators need to be held accountable in college admissions scandal

UCLA administrators need to be held accountable in college admissions scandal
UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero introduces Mick Cronin as the new UCLA men's head basketball coach during a news conference at Pauley Pavilion on April 10, 2019. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Getty Images)

The responses were curious then. They sound downright suspicious now.

“This is not the appropriate time to talk about the admissions scandal,” UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero said.

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That was Guerrero on Wednesday at basketball coach Mick Cronin’s introductory news conference.

Asked when would be the appropriate time to talk about the federal case, Guerrero replied, “It may never be appropriate, at this point in time.”

What has been revealed since then is that years before the current scandal, UCLA knew of parents pledging donations to the athletic department in exchange for the university admitting their children.

And there’s more.

In the aftermath of one such deal that was struck in 2013, Michael Maynard, then the track and field coach, told Guerrero in a letter that he facilitated the arrangement at the request of Josh Rebholz, who is now the school’s associate athletic director.

Consider the implications. Guerrero knew of the cash-for-admission practice. And if the contents of the letter were accurate, his top lieutenant actively promoted it.

Under current circumstances, how can either Guerrero or Rebholz possibly remain in their current roles? The answer is simple: Short of an independent, no-holds-barred investigation that exonerates them, they can’t.

UCLA has lost the trust of the public.

Not over something like hiring a basketball or football coach, which this athletic administration has botched several times. What was lost here was trust in the foundation of the school, its essence and fundamental purpose.

As much as UCLA likes to advertise how many of their athletic endeavors are privately funded, the university remains a public institution.

Set aside for a second the reality that sharp increases in tuition have made the university inaccessible to many families. UCLA is a state university. Guerrero and Rebholz are public servants. The public deserves better.

The university’s internal investigation into the 2013 matter determined the circumstances surrounding a particular young woman’s admission “removes any reasonable doubt that the contribution from the parents was obtained quid pro quo for the daughter’s admission.” No laws were broken but admissions policy was violated, according to a report on the investigation written by William Cormier, then the director of UCLA’s administrative policies and compliance office.

Suddenly it makes sense how an athletic department that prided itself on ethics and compliance could make overtures to John Calipari before settling on Cronin. Two of Calipari’s teams had to vacate their Final Four appearances.

Guerrero and Rebholz haven’t responded to requests for comment.

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Their silence is deafening. Guerrero’s nonanswers from last week are haunting.

If what Guerrero said last week was disturbing, the statement he released in the wake of the federal indictments was comical.

“Despite the fact that we have confidence in the existing process, a breach of the system can obviously occur when individuals choose to act unethically, and contrary to the level of integrity that we expect,” Guerrero said.

Such an excuse could be used to explain what the recent federal investigation uncovered, in which men’s soccer coach Jorge Salcedo was accused to have accepted $200,000 in bribes for facilitating the acceptance of two students under the pretense they were soccer players even though they didn’t play the sport competitively.

The same alibi can’t be used to defend what was described in Cormier’s report, which didn’t accuse any coaches of receiving any financial benefits for the deals. “The conclusion reached … is that the coaches involved were motivated principally by the expectation of a financial benefit to the University, in violation of Regents policy,” the report said.

In short, the culprits weren’t acting on behalf of themselves, as was allegedly the case at USC. They were acting on behalf of the university. This was systemic corruption.

Guerrero said in his statement responding to the Salcedo indictment, “In collaboration with the University, we are currently reviewing every aspect of the student-athlete admissions process. We will use this opportunity to identify areas that can be strengthened, and we will take the appropriate steps to do so.”

The problem is that UCLA already did, or was at least instructed to do so. In the wake of the 2014 investigation, the school said in a statement, “The investigation’s recommendations focused on providing staff with training regarding, and accountability for following, UC admissions policies.”

That didn’t prevent Salcedo from allegedly taking $200,000 in exchange for his illicit services.

UCLA released a statement Saturday evening on Cormier’s report, explaining Rebholz wasn’t interviewed in the 2014 investigation because Maynard didn’t inform Guerrero of his alleged involvement until later. The new information was shared with an investigator, who decided against reopening the case after multiple conversations with Maynard, according to the statement. No disciplinary action was taken against Rebholz, the university said.

The university didn’t explain why the investigation wasn’t reopened or why Rebholz wasn’t punished. Nor did the school explain why Maynard was allowed to remain with the track and field program until 2017 if the investigator didn’t find his accusations against Rebholz serious enough to interview Rebholz.

Absent these details, UCLA looks as if it tried to sweep the problem under the good old rug.

Now, it’s possible Guerrero never read Maynard’s letter and was unaware of what was happening in his department. But if the school looked into this, why wouldn’t Guerrero be informed?

None of this looks good.

Some might argue that deals like this probably happen elsewhere and therefore shouldn’t be viewed as scandalous, but that would be wrong. This isn’t even a case of holding UCLA to a higher standard. This is about holding one of the crown jewels of American education to a basic standard.

UCLA has to be better. UCLA has to be trustworthy. Right now, it’s not.

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