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UC needs stronger, unified accountability regarding student-athlete admissions

The University of California’s poor oversight allowed for unqualified students to enroll as student athletes, and even then, those students often failed to fulfill their obligation. Allowing these students to game the system took opportunities away from more deserving student-athletes nationwide.

By Allison Oliva

March 5, 2020 10:26 p.m.

The Varsity Blues college admissions scandal of 2019 is the gift that keeps on giving.

The stories and media hysteria surrounding the affluent parents who paid for their kids’ admission to prestigious universities were all anyone could talk about last year. However, a recent internal audit further analyzing the situation showed University of California schools didn’t just accept unqualified students as athletes – they created a system perfect for abuse.

After these applicants were accepted, the UC kept no paperwork identifying the students as special-talent admissions. And without that paper trail, there were no means of tracking the students who were accepted unethically.

The fact that wealthy families were buying the spots of hardworking students at a public university was problematic enough to cause outrage.

But this new information adds insult to injury. If the UC had done its homework, then it could potentially have caught students who came to the university under the false pretense of being an athlete. The lack of consistent oversight is a blatant flaw in the system, but it’s also a disservice to students who are working hard to keep their spots at UC schools. Even more disappointing, it seems unlikely that the UC will properly implement the audit’s recommendations moving forward.

Degree auditors check students’ accounts in order to track their progress at UCLA. They make sure students are enrolled in at least 12 units, are passing classes and are on the right path to graduate.

Or at least they do most of the time.

Sarah Jarso, a first-year human biology and society student, said the UC needs to put greater effort toward tracking athletic participation.

“If I don’t go to classes and I fail, I get kicked out,” Jarso said. “If you’re not contributing to your team, then why are you here?”

Being a student-athlete shouldn’t be a hack in the system that allows students who have never played the sport to get into esteemed universities. The UC should have better kept track of those who were wrongfully accepted as athletes.

But this isn’t just an issue of tracking an athlete’s work for the sake of making sure they are committed.

It’s the glaring frustration that students’ parents bought athletic spots at good universities and never devoted any effort. Meanwhile, there are thousands of student-athletes whose schedules and lives revolve around their practices and games.

And even for the student-athletes who do deserve to be here, their academic achievements often take a back seat in their admissions – an often-frustrating reality for other students.

Meanwhile, UCLA is patting itself on the back.

UCLA spokesperson Ricardo Vazquez said UCLA exceeded the systemwide audit recommendation set by the UC.

“For more than a decade UCLA has required that students who are admitted as athletes participate in their sport for at least a year,” Vazquez said. “UCLA recently expanded the participation requirement to two years.”

Despite UCLA going above the standard, it is not a system implemented by the entire UC. And even with its supposedly rigorous audits, UCLA is no stranger to students who slipped through the cracks.

In the case of the UC, inconsistency seems to be key.

Before the scandal, two UC campuses tracked team practices but had no documentation on the participation of individuals. This speaks to the UC’s lackluster systemwide enforcement, which left implementation up to individual campuses.

And it plans to do the exact same thing when it comes to fixing the problem – UC President Janet Napolitano has asked individual campuses to create specific plans to address the audit’s recommendations.

Because the UC only requires students to be athletes for a year, anyone could fake their way onto a team, pretend to contribute and then quit, especially when their individual work isn’t tracked.

In the end, their spots at top-flight universities are safe, and they can claim they followed the UC guidelines.

Genesis Jackson, a first-year dance and African American studies student, said the UC’s current system needs to be reassessed in order to make sure everyone in the UC earns their spot.

“They need to implement the same system UCLA has,” Jackson said. “I’m from the (Los Angeles Unified School) District, (where) I had to do a lot of volunteer work and keep my grades extremely high to get here.”

Of course, this entire situation might’ve been an honest mistake on the UC’s behalf. But it should understand the number of lives it’s affected because of it, especially the student-athletes who have to enroll elsewhere because greedy parents had the means to take their spots away. This should serve as a prime example for the University on what it needs to work toward improving in the future: accountability and transparency.

The system needs fixing – not just for the sake of universities avoiding embarrassing and outrageous mistakes on its behalf, but also for the sake of students who put sweat and tears into their work toward a higher education.

Because if the UC doesn’t fix the problems that go under the radar, it could find itself amid another scandal sooner than anticipated.

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Allison Oliva | Opinion columnist
Oliva is an Opinion columnist.
Oliva is an Opinion columnist.
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