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Editorial: UCLA has lost integrity failing to hold officials involved in bribery accountable

By Editorial Board

April 14, 2019 11:44 pm

Money buys you a lot of things at UCLA – lately even your integrity.

The college admissions scandal has refused to wash away from the news cycle. A sweeping federal indictment last month showed us how ultrarich parents and celebrities were able to pay up to half a million dollars to falsify their children’s athletics records and buy their way into public and private universities. The numerous follow-up stories displayed how UCLA and other institutions were pathetically lacking in oversight of their rogue athletics departments.

The latest wave has had the most damning revelation yet.

The Los Angeles Times reported last week that wealthy parents were already getting their athletically subpar kids into UCLA, well before the college admissions scandal, by offering up to six figures in donations to UCLA Athletics. One couple pledged $100,000 to the university, and their daughter – who was too slow for the track and field team – managed to cross the bar because senior athletics officials pressured the coach into recruiting her.

The worst part, though, was that university officials knew and even did an investigation into this practice in 2014. Yet, administrators seemed to do nothing in response.

There’s no mincing words: This is straight-up bribery. And the fact that it was permitted and even allegedly encouraged by administrators makes it obvious UCLA is comically corrupt.

Here Chancellor Gene Block was claiming UCLA was the victim. Instead it’s the perpetrator.

Block himself had to have been knowledgeable about the internal investigation, which implicated officials as high up as Josh Rebholz, now the university’s senior associate athletic director for external relations.

Moreover, the corruption was extensive. According to the report, Rebholz told Michael Maynard, the then-track and field coach, that it was imperative he recruit the student in question because she was the daughter of major donors. This was on top of Grant Chen, the associate head tennis coach, telling UCLA’s director of administrative policies and compliance office that the student-athlete was a family friend – one whose parents received sample pledges from Chen. Maynard, who eventually left UCLA in 2017, even authored an email thanking the student’s parents for their “generous financial gift.”

But the worryingly long paper trail is just the tip of the corruption-berg. The 2014 report even found families of the tennis team’s walk-on athletes gave massive donations to the university – donations, its authors wrote, were likely expected by some to come at the time of the students’ admittance.

In other words, last month’s college admissions scandal was merely an egregious and unnecessarily illegal attempt to do what so many others were already. And given hard-hitters implicated in this report – Rebholz, Maynard and Chen – largely kept their jobs, it’s clear the bribery was institutionalized.

The implications are harrowing: UCLA didn’t change five years ago. It’s unlikely to change now. And the big talk from Block and UCLA Athletics officials about wanting to reform the process is probably hogwash.

This is coming from the nation’s top public university.

Of course, UCLA can argue the charges from the 2014 report have already been addressed through changes like staff training. But none of the implicated individuals engaged in bribery because there wasn’t training at the time to explain the rules to them. Instead, the report revealed how UCLA Athletics officials believed they were acting in the university’s best interest by soliciting donations – something administrators are still obsessed with.

UCLA filled its coffers alright. And it lost its integrity with it.

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