Senator Dianne Feinstein’s husband, Richard Blum, has been named in a college admissions scandal. This scandal is different than the one that has dominated headlines for months. Unlike the FBI’s Operation Varsity Blues, this isn’t a story of wealthy parents paying handsomely to get their unqualified children accepted into a college or university. This is a story of connections and the arrogance of the privileged.
The state auditor’s office named Richard Blum, a University of California Regent, as one of the regents in an admissions scandal involving dozens of students from wealthy, mostly white, well-connected families. There is a prohibition on regents using their influence in admission matters.
Among those “inappropriately admitted” were a student whose family was friends with a member of the Board of Regents, the child of a major donor and an applicant who babysat for a colleague of a former admissions director, according to the report released Tuesday by the California State Auditor.
In one case, a regent unidentified in the audit sent an “inappropriate letter of support” directly to the UC Berkeley chancellor on behalf of a student with only a 26% chance of winning a spot off the wait list, despite the policy prohibiting efforts by regents to influence admissions decisions by going around the regular process. The applicant was admitted.
Margarita Fernandez, the auditor’s spokesperson, confirmed that the regent is Richard Blum.
When asked about this breach in conduct, Blum’s response was hey, no one told me it was wrong to do it. He said he has done it lots of times during his 18 years as a regent. He claims innocence of any wrongdoing.
Blum told the San Francisco Chronicle on Thursday that he’s done nothing wrong and that he has used his clout to get friends and family into the elite public system for years.
“I did it a bunch of times,” Blum said, adding that he has never considered it a problem to write recommendation letters bypassing the traditional admissions process. A policy prohibiting such influence has been in place throughout Blum’s 18-year tenure on the Board of Regents, the newspaper reported.
Blum, a financier, told the Chronicle that “no one ever told me it was wrong.” He said he has sent letters of recommendation about friends and family to chancellors at multiple UC campuses since becoming a regent in 2002. “Wherever they were applying. Wherever they wanted to get in.” He recalled sending letters specifically to the chancellors at UC Berkeley, UC Davis, and UC Irvine, but added: “almost everywhere.”
This is about the wealthy and well-connected using their clout to secure their children’s college education at the expense of others who were qualified to fill the admissions slot. Blum is 85 years old now and a very wealthy businessman, who sometimes finds himself in the news for shady doings available to him due to his wife’s political career. In his world, it’s all about who you know, so naturally, he doesn’t see the error in his ways. He thinks it is perfectly normal to just send off a letter instructing the admissions office to let an applicant in while using his position as regent as leverage.
The Operation Oxford Blues scandal led to an audit request last year by state Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath. Four of the UC’s nine campuses — UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, and UC Santa Barbara were included. Admissions policies and practices were examined over six academic year periods, from 2013-14 to 2018-19.
This is an example of why people are disgusted with professional politicians like Senator Feinstein. Would her husband have found such financial rewards in his career without a powerful political wife? Would he be on the Board of Regents without her connection? Both are legitimate questions. After so many years of living like this, Blum is oblivious to the appearance of his wrongdoing, if not the actual wrongdoing. He sounds surprised that he was even questioned about his actions. Blum was helping the children of other wealthy, well-connected men and women. He wasn’t even giving a boost to a needy student. There’s no philanthropic angle here.
UC Berkeley was the worst offender, the audit said, with 55 cases of inappropriate admissions. Among them, 14 cases involved students who were denied admission through the regular process and were offered a spot on the waitlist. Blum’s letter came in support of one of those waitlisted students, the audit said.
But that student, like the 13 others on the waitlist, had received “uncompetitive scores from readers that gave them poor chances of being admitted,” the audit said.
Blum wrote a letter of advocacy about the student to the UC Berkeley chancellor, which was forwarded to the development office responsible for handling fundraising and relations with donors. Blum has been a longtime supporter of Berkeley, donating $15 million in 2006 to launch the Blum Center for Developing Economies to address global poverty and subsequent contributions to expand that work.
The development office then forwarded the letter to the admissions office, the audit said. The two offices conferred on who should be admitted from the waitlist. Blum’s favored applicant had only a 26% chance of acceptance based on ratings by application readers, the audit said, but won admission.
The Chairman of the Board of Regents released a statement.
Board of Regents Chairman John A. Pérez said UC officials have “limited details” about the case but are reviewing the information to determine whether the alleged conduct violates university policies and whether an additional UC review or investigation is warranted.
“The UC Board of Regents takes these matters very seriously and any violations will be promptly and appropriately addressed,” Pérez said in a statement. “Once the Board determines and carefully evaluates the facts of the case, we will comment on the outcome and will further review if any changes in policy are called for.”
The regents are allowed to submit letters of recommendation, when appropriate, but the case of the wait-listed student, in particular, shows Blum’s willingness to step outside the bounds of acceptable behavior.
Blum has donated millions of dollars to UC. The 82-page state audit found that the four campuses involved in the audit had admitted at least 64 students “using inappropriate factors to select them, such as connections to donors, staff or alumni.” We’ll see if Blum is even removed from the Board of Regents over his inappropriate actions. He has been a regent since 2002.
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