Richard Blum, a regent of the University of California system and husband to U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), has found himself entangled in a college admissions scandal after a state audit revealed that he wrote an “inappropriate letter of support” for a student the audit found was unlikely to be admitted based on merit alone.
While the state audit did not directly name him, a spokesperson for the auditor’s office confirmed his identity to Mercury News on Thursday morning, and Blum has since admitted to writing such letters “a bunch of times” for family members and friends.
“My cousin’s brother wanted to get into Davis,” Blum, who has been a UC regent since 2002, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “They’d send me a letter and tell me why it’s a good kid, and I’ll send it on to the chancellor. Been doing it forever.”
“I’m not convinced I’ve done anything wrong. It all sounds kinda boring to me,” he said.
The UC Board of Regents Policy 2201 says that “members of the Board of Regents should not seek to influence inappropriately the outcome of admissions decisions beyond sending letters of recommendation, where appropriate, through the regular admissions process and officers.” In a statement to the Chronicle, UC Regents Chair John Pérez said that these matters are taken seriously, and “any violations will be promptly and appropriately addressed.”
According to the audit, UC Berkeley staff admitted 42 students between the 2013-2014 academic school year and the 2018-2019 academic school year despite admissions reader ratings “that made it unlikely they would receive an offer of admission.”
Of the 42 applicants, 17 had connections to donors or potential donors to the university, of which five received “the lowest possible rating from both of UC Berkeley’s application readers.” Another 11 applicants were reportedly admitted based on connections to university staff members, or even acquaintances to staff members.
Yet another 14 applicants — one of them the student Blum recommended outside the normal admissions channels — were admitted off the waitlist even though they received “uncompetitive scores from readers that gave them poor chances of being admitted.”
“This applicant had only about a 26 percent chance of being admitted to UC Berkeley on their own based on the ratings that readers had assigned their application,” reads the audit of the specific applicant recommended by Blum. “The email records we reviewed indicate that staff in the admissions office consulted with the development office about who should be admitted from the waitlist. The admissions office also prioritized the admission of applicants on the waitlist whom staff had recommended, as well as applicants on a list that the former admissions director created. It is therefore likely that the applicant whom the Regent recommended would have been on a list that received priority admission from the waitlist. 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.”
Of the total 42 applicants admitted to UC Berkeley with the alleged help of their connections, the audit notes that over two-thirds of them had a less than 10% chance of admission, and 13 of them had “virtually no chance of admission” under typical circumstances.