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New rules for UCLA dental school

Allegations of preferential treatment in admissions prompt the adoption of stricter guidelines, effective for next fall's applicants.

November 15, 2007|Larry Gordon and Richard C. Paddock | Times Staff Writers

In the wake of allegations that financial donations influenced admissions decisions to an elite residency program, the UCLA School of Dentistry on Wednesday released details of new rules that are supposed to eliminate even the appearance of impropriety.

The changes, which went into effect for students admitted for next fall, require members of an admissions review committee to recuse themselves if they are related to, are close friends with or have a business association with a candidate or the candidate's family, officials said. Faculty members cannot serve on the panel if an immediate family member is being considered that year. Any potential conflict must be reviewed by another panel of faculty and staff.

The regulations ban special consideration for applicants or students related to current or former donors to the school, a restriction that adds details to a UC systemwide policy adopted in 1998. In addition, the new dentistry rules forbid faculty or staff to seek donations from applicants, students or residents or their relatives or business partners.

A UCLA audit this year said investigators could not substantiate allegations that four close relatives of donors improperly landed spots in the highly coveted orthodontics residency program between 2002 and 2006. However, it reported that circumstances surrounding some decisions "create the perception that the integrity of the admissions process is being compromised for fundraising purposes."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, November 17, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 3 inches; 121 words Type of Material: Correction
Dental schools: A story in Wednesday's California section about an investigation into possible cheating by dentistry students at UCLA, USC and Loma Linda University incorrectly reported that the American Dental Assn. also was investigating students from New York University. The ADA says the Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations does not have a pending investigation of students at the NYU School of Dentistry. Also, in a follow-up article on Thursday, New York University Executive Vice Dean Richard Vogel said that the initial Times article, reporting that the ADA was investigating NYU according to UCLA officials, was not accurate. His comments were erroneously left out of a shortened version in the Orange County Edition but appeared in other editions of The Times.

The audit said that although there was no "convincing evidence" of wrongdoing, "circumstantial evidence indicates" that at least one person used influence in connection with one admission decision.

The dental school dean, No-Hee Park, said Wednesday the investigation provided "an opportunity to review our admissions policies and procedures."

"I am confident that the school will emerge from current challenges stronger and even more purposeful in its mission," added Park, who also Wednesday was dealing with reports that a national dental organization was investigating possible student cheating.

Details of the admissions controversy were first published by the Daily Bruin, the campus newspaper, Tuesday, setting off much discussion at the school. Critics allege that candidates were admitted to the orthodontics program after relatives pledged gifts as large as $1 million to the school.

UCLA Chancellor Gene D. Block said the campus audit took into account the information in the Daily Bruin story, plus "a great deal more."

"We are not trying to hide anything here. We are trying to get the process right," he said.

The new policies at the dental school apply only to that school, but Block said he was reviewing all UCLA schools to make sure similar guidelines were in effect.

UC system Provost and Executive Vice President Wyatt R. Hume, who was once a professor and dean at the UCLA dental school, said he was surprised by the reports of favoritism.

"It is difficult for me because I know the school well and I know the people well, and I admire the dean enormously," Hume said during a break at a regular meeting of the UC regents, who had convened at UCLA.

Hume said he believed that the allegations surrounding the dental school were an isolated case in the UC system.

Meanwhile, UCLA's dentistry school also was coping with other news. School officials reported that the American Dental Assn. was investigating whether at least a dozen UCLA students and students at three other dental schools shared compact discs that contained improperly obtained questions on a national test that is a step toward professional licensing.

UCLA's Park said the ADA, citing confidentiality rights, had not told the school details of the probe.

"It is our hope that the ADA investigation provides adequate due process to the students and that the resolution is quick and fair," he said.

At Loma Linda University, officials said one recent graduate of its dentistry school was under investigation but, also citing privacy rules, declined to discuss specifics. Loma Linda's dentistry dean, Charles Goodacre, said the school had a "zero tolerance" policy against cheating and regularly reminds faculty to be vigilant against it.

USC dentistry school officials, also citing confidentiality, declined to specify the number of students involved.

"We will cooperate with any ongoing investigation being conducted by the ADA," said school spokeswoman Angelica Urquijo.

However, New York University's executive vice dean, Richard Vogel, said a report in Tuesday's Times that NYU students also were subjects of the probe was incorrect. He said the ADA "told me we are not under investigation."

The ADA said Wednesday that its examinations commission "routinely conducts investigations when it receives allegations about irregularities that might jeopardize the integrity of the National Board Dental Examinations."

The admissions controversy at the dental school prompted other reaction Wednesday.

Darrell Spilsbury, last year's president of UCLA's dentistry school alumni organization, said he never saw any evidence of donations influencing decisions on the admissions review panel on which he served. "There was never a word about money," said Spilsbury, an orthodontist in Henderson, Nev.

However, Spilsbury said he was upset to learn that a school fundraiser last year had asked a recently admitted candidate for a donation. The student was upset and complained about it.

"That was tacky," Spilsbury said of the donation request. "I was also offended by it."

larry.gordon@latimes.com

richard.paddock@latimes.com

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Times staff writer Louis Sahagun contributed to this report.

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