SACRAMENTO — University of California President Richard C. Atkinson said Monday that he is launching a systemwide review to determine the extent of admissions favoritism shown to the children and friends of UC regents and other prominent figures.
In reaction to newspaper disclosures of preferential treatment for some regents and others in securing admissions to UCLA and other campuses, Atkinson announced he is appointing Provost C. Judson King to conduct "a review of the extent, if any, to which special requests have determined admission decisions at the undergraduate, graduate, or professional levels."
The review, Atkinson said, will include data from each of UC's nine campuses "about policies and practices pertaining to admissions inquiries, whatever their source." In a letter to the Board of Regents dated Monday, Atkinson said the world-renowned university has "no policy that affords preferences to students as a result of letters or other communications on their behalf by prominent individuals, nor do we endorse such practices."
But he underscored the seriousness of the questions raised by The Times on Saturday, saying: "Throughout the university we take extraordinary care in our admissions decisions, knowing that the results will have lifelong implications for students.
"If the report reveals problems that need to be addressed, we will do whatever is necessary to ensure the integrity of our admissions process," Atkinson wrote. He said the report by King, officially named provost last week, is due May 20.
Atkinson, in Sacramento for an annual alumni legislative conference, could not be reached for further comment. However, Mike Lassiter, a university spokesman, said the university regularly reviews its own policies.
"We're in the best position to do it," Lassiter said. "There isn't a need for an outside person to do the review."
Still, the admissions controversy places Atkinson in a difficult position because he was hired just last year by the regents as UC president after much behind-the-scenes wrangling.
Now he is asking a top aide to look into questions of whether some of those same regents, as well as some politicians with budgetary oversight over UC, may have exerted undue influence in winning admissions.
On Saturday, The Times reported that several regents who voted publicly to roll back affirmative action admissions for minorities and women had privately used their positions to get relatives, friends and the children of business partners into UCLA, in some cases ahead of better-qualified applicants who were rejected.
Confidential records show, for instance, that Regent Leo Kolligian of Fresno intervened to help get undergraduate admissions and housing for three of his business partner's children, including one who was allowed into the Westwood campus ahead of at least 6,000 others with better grade-point averages and Scholastic Aptitude Test scores that fall.
In a 1989 case, Regent Meredith Khachigian of San Clemente called UCLA after her daughter was rejected despite posting a perfect grade-point average. Within days, UCLA reversed itself but the daughter decided to go elsewhere.
And three years ago, documents show, Regent Bill Bagley of San Francisco pressed unsuccessfully for UCLA Chancellor Charles E. Young to admit a graduate applicant as a "way to say thank you" to a lawmaker who helped defeat a bill the university opposed. Both the lawmaker, former Assembly Republican Leader Jim Brulte of Rancho Cucamonga, and Bagley denied there was a quid pro quo.
Young initially downplayed questions about such backdoor admissions favors, saying his administration responded to regents' requests for housing and parking but not undergraduate slots.
"Am I aware of times when people tried to pull strings and got somebody in? No," Young said.
The next day, however, he issued a clarification saying that his staff "may have acted improperly" in cases outlined by The Times.
Meanwhile, two state lawmakers on Saturday denounced the regents for "hypocrisy" and called for hearings into the issue. Democratic Sen. Tom Hayden, whose Santa Monica district includes UCLA, said he will convene a session of his Select Committee on Higher Education in a few weeks, while Assemblywoman Marguerite Archie-Hudson (D-Los Angeles) said she will seek the same in the Assembly Higher Education Committee.
Atkinson's call for an internal inquiry follows remarks he made when the issue surfaced late last week. "It may turn out that as we look this over more carefully, we'll actually have to have a clear statement of policy," he told reporters Friday.
The UC president, who had previously served for 15 years as chancellor at UC San Diego, said he frequently fielded requests during that time and he "always responded by asking the admissions officer to review the case and determine that the application was fairly treated.
"But at no time did San Diego give any special consideration and I would assert that if we did . . . it would be wrong," he said.
Confidential records obtained by The Times, however, show that Atkinson made one admissions request of UCLA for a student who was not admitted, and a housing request for a student who was given a dorm room.
Frammolino reported from Los Angeles and Gladstone from Sacramento. The e-mail address for Gladstone is email@example.com. For Frammolino, it is firstname.lastname@example.org.