Richard Blum, a University of California regent who is married to Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, was revealed Thursday to be the same regent named in a damning state audit on the school’s admissions scandal that was released this week.
A spokesman for Feinstein said the California senator had no comment.
The state auditor’s report comes more than a year after the FBI accused dozens of wealthy people ― executives, real estate professionals and multiple Hollywood actors ― of using scam tactics to ensure their children were admitted to elite colleges, including UC’s sprawling university system.
State investigators subsequently determined that UC staff had failed to implement an admissions process that was fair to all applicants. At least 64 students gained admission as a favor to donors, family and friends between 2013 and 2019, the auditors found.
Blum’s role in the scandal was “particularly problematic,” the report stated, due to his powerful position on the board of regents, which makes decisions about how the system should be run. The report concluded that Blum influenced the decision to admit a single unnamed student to the University of California at Berkeley.
UC Berkeley appears to have admitted this student because of an inappropriate letter of support from a university Regent. University policy states that members of the Board of Regents should not seek to influence inappropriately the outcome of admissions decisions beyond sending letters of recommendation, when appropriate, through the regular admissions process. However, the Regent did not submit this letter through the regular admissions process. Rather, after the campus placed this applicant on its waitlist, the Regent wrote a letter to UC Berkeley’s chancellor advocating for the applicant, and the chancellor’s staff sent the letter to UC Berkeley’s development office, which in turn forwarded the letter to the admissions office.
Given both the “low likelihood of this applicant’s admission” and the “prominent and influential role that Regents have within the university,” the report stated that Blum “likely” gave the student the leg up needed to secure admission.
But there is more than one student he helped this way.
Blum himself acknowledged Thursday that he has sent letters advocating for student admissions many times, telling the San Francisco Chronicle that “no one ever told me it was wrong.”
“I did it a bunch of times,” Blum said. “Usually [for] friends. My cousin’s brother wanted to get into Davis. 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.”
He told The Mercury News that he was baffled by the controversy.
“This is the first time I’ve heard that maybe I did something that wasn’t right,” Blum said, according to the paper. “I think it’s a bunch of nonsense.”
In a statement, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ called the allegations contained in the state auditors’ report “highly disturbing.”
“These allegations, if true, are unacceptable, especially in our community where excellence, fairness and equity are our core values,” Christ said. “We are committed to getting to the bottom of this.”
When the FBI announced the charges in March 2019, it renewed accusations that America’s higher education system favors the wealthy and powerful. Two actors who were charged in the case, Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, later pleaded guilty to fraud and received light prison sentences.
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