Throwback Thursday: Federal investigation of UCLA’s fees for medical flights echoes admissions scandal
(Daily Bruin Archive)
By Molly Wright
April 4, 2019 4:35 p.m.
Throwback Thursdays are our chance to reflect on past events on or near campus and relate them to the present day. Each week, we showcase and analyze an old article from the Daily Bruin archives in an effort to chronicle the campus’ history.
UCLA is currently being investigated by federal authorities concerning the unraveling admissions bribery scandal.
But this isn’t the first time the school’s caught the eye of the feds.
According to an article published the Daily Bruin on March 2, 1989, federal authorities opened an investigation on the university after it flew a UC-owned airplane to carry organ transplant teams and consequently charged the patients for flights. Though those violations were minuscule in comparison to the current scandal, they seemed like a pretty big deal at the time.
The authorities inquired about whether UCLA broke federal laws when the recipients of the organs paid for the aptly named “harvest teams” to fly around the western U.S. and collect the organs necessary for the operations. The airplane, The Cheyenne 400, flew around at least seven organ transplant teams and charged a whopping total of $23,000 for the convenience.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, airplanes require specific licensing if carrying shipments for compensation.
“UCLA operates under more lenient FAA regulations,” the article read. Darlene Skeels, a former head spokeswoman for the university, mentioned that UC lawyers were under the impression that special licensing was not necessary. Skeels also noted that UCLA did not need special licensing because the school is a public institution.
Much like the current ongoing investigation, only time dictates whether or not real consequences will materialize as a result of the ongoing investigations.
According to the article, it could take months to reach a decision on the case, and supervisors would determine if the case needs to go to the FAA. If found guilty, the UC and pilot of the plane could potentially face large fines and halt usage of The Cheyenne 400 plane. At the time, it remained to be determined if patients or their insurance companies would sue for being illegally charged.
Interestingly enough, the article recounts an instance where KCBS denounced UCLA for spending thousands of dollars to accommodate jet-setting university officials in The Cheyenne 400, which they hadn’t yet purchased.
The most alarming statement came from J. Timothy Fives, a former UCLA emergency medical employee.
“There’s no room for that kind of indifference to regulations, that kind of arrogance about not complying with the law,” Fives told the Bruin. “I have a hard time stomaching the willful and knowing violation of federal law – especially when it is in regards to safety.”
This statement makes it seem as though UCLA was all too aware of its actions, something that unfortunately echoes the current ongoing college admissions scandal.
Amidst one news story after another of involvement in the college admissions scandal, it’s obvious that academic institutions nationwide are realizing that attempting to quietly slip things through the cracks isn’t an excusable course of action for committing real, big-time errors.
Though being investigated for violating aviation laws doesn’t have the high stakes comparable to that of the college admissions scandal, the 1989 federal investigation is nonetheless a blip in UCLA’s record.
If past investigations aren’t warning enough, perhaps institutions like UCLA will make the same mistakes time and time again. Only time will tell – and hopefully the university will learn to stay out of trouble in the meantime.