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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

Gilmore also said Berkeley officials had asked the auditor for the underlying documents that led to the findings "for several months now" but have not yet directly received any material.

Margarita Fernandez, a spokeswoman for the state auditor's office, said Friday that the documents show that UC Berkeley accepted the Blum letter "contrary to its admissions process and policy." A 1996 Board of Regents policy allows members to send letters of recommendation, when appropriate, during the regular admissions process. But Blum sent his letter outside those bounds, after the applicant had been denied initial admission and placed on the waitlist, the audit showed.

UC policy allows letters of recommendation only if requested by admissions officials under specific circumstances that Fernandez said did not apply in the Blum case. She said the applicant had already submitted two other letters of recommendation - which is the maximum allowed under UC policy. Berkeley is not supposed to accept or consider letters of recommendation as part of the waitlist decision process, she said.

Yet the letter was not only accepted, it was also discussed by high-level campus officials - treatment not afforded other applicants, Fernandez said.

According to the emails, Christ's executive assistant, Carolyn Koo, forwarded the letter from Blum - along with a letter from an unidentified regent emeritus advocating for a different student - to MiHi Ahn, executive vice president of the UC Berkeley Foundation, the university's primary private fundraising arm. Koo asked Ahn to respond to Blum and the regent emeritus on behalf of Christ.

Blum, a UC Berkeley alumnus, has been an important contributor to the university over the years. In 2006, he donated $15 million to launch the Blum Center for Developing Economies to address global poverty and subsequent contributions to expand that work.

 

The regent emeritus, whose name was redacted from the documents, made a point of mentioning a potential forthcoming donation in the letter. "A small ps: my love for Berkeley recently led to my urging a ... client to donate" to Boalt Hall, the former name of the UC Berkeley law school. The redacted emails appeared to indicate that the applicant was not admitted.

Ahn sent an email to Amy Jarich, then assistant vice chancellor and director of admissions, alerting her to the two letters.

"I'm going to draft a letter of response that basically says, 'there's a bright line between us and admissions and we have no influence, but we will forward the letters to admissions.' Just FYI ... of course everyone here knows the letters are not considered unless requested," Ahn wrote.

In a second email to Jarich forwarding the letters, Ahn reiterated that she planned to draft a response to Blum and the regent emeritus from Christ's office saying that "we have no influence but we will go ahead and forward the letter, (but of course we are all well aware that these letters carry no weight). But we can just say we forwarded them.'"

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