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UC regent says his letter for Berkeley applicant wasn't intended as unfair influence

By Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

University of California Regent Richard Blum said Saturday he did not intend to unfairly influence the UC admissions process when he wrote what a state audit called an "inappropriate letter of support" to get an uncompetitive student admitted to the University of California, Berkeley.

"It was never my intention to circumvent or unfairly influence the admissions process," Blum, a San Francisco financier and husband of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a statement. "I do not intend to write letters of recommendation going forward."

Blum's statement came the morning after the California State Auditor's Office released documents showing that the regent's favored candidate was admitted from the waitlist after UC Berkeley's fundraising and admissions offices met to discuss which applicants from that list would be approved. The offices had received Blum's letter about the prospective student, who had been denied initial admission after receiving scores from application evaluators that indicated a 26% chance of acceptance, the audit said.

Blum's intervention came in one of 64 cases identified in an 82-page state audit on UC's admissions policies in which applicants were granted slots using inappropriate factors, such as connections to donors, staff and alumni. Among them, 55 cases involved UC Berkeley, with four at the University of California, Los Angeles, four at the University of California, Santa Barbara and one at the University of California, San Diego.

Blum said he respected the findings and concerns raised in the audit, but said he had never been told his letters of recommendation were improper. He said he had written more than a dozen such letters for UC applicants over the last 18 years, submitting them to the chancellors' offices.

"On no occasion did I receive feedback that that was not the appropriate protocol and that letters needed to be sent to the Director of Admissions," he said. "Moreover, I was never informed about whether any of the applicants for whom I wrote letters were later accepted for admission and I never inquired about the ultimate decisions in these cases."

 

The redacted documents showed that Blum sent the letter to current UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ. Blum told Christ he wanted to "express my support" for an "outstanding" applicant on the waitlist who "embodies all the qualities we look for in our students."

"Beyond college, I can see (the applicant) as a devoted alumnus who will greatly contribute to the CAL community," Blum wrote. He asked Christ to give the student "every consideration" as a "worthy addition" to the undergraduate class.

The date of the letter was redacted, but the other documents released indicate Blum wrote it in spring or summer of 2018, during Christ's first year as chancellor and after regular admissions decisions for prospective freshmen are released in late March.

UC Berkeley spokeswoman Janet Gilmore said that the campus declined to comment on Blum's statement and the auditor emails because the matter is under review by the UC Office of the President's ethics, compliance and audit services office. She said the chancellor's administrative staff "routinely directs correspondence it receives to other campus offices, as appropriate, for response and action."

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