Author Files Suit to Spur Investigation of UVa Admissions

Jeff Thomas delved into UVa admissions practices in his book, 'Virginia Politics & Government in a New Century."

Jeff Thomas delved into UVa admissions practices in his book, ‘Virginia Politics & Government in a New Century.”

Jeff Thomas, author of “Virginia Politics & Government in a New Century: The Price of Power,” has filed a complaint asking the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Western District of Virginia to launch an independent investigation into admissions practices at the University of Virginia. Reports the Cavalier Daily:

Thomas said in an email to The Cavalier Daily he filed the federal complaint because the University and the state government are incapable of independently investigating what he called a “corruption scandal,” which could implicate political donors, legislators and members of the University Board of Visitors.

“If U.Va. will not release the complete, unredacted documents, then an investigating body with subpoena power must compel them to do so,” Thomas said.

Thomas brought public attention to the issue of favoritism in admissions when he passed along documents he obtained though a Freedom of Information Act to the Washington Post. The heavily redacted documents showed that the UVa department of university advancement maintained a “watch list” of applicants of interest to potential donors, and lobbied the president’s office on their behalf. The documents did not indicate whether the president’s office passed along the requests for preferential treatment or how the admissions office might have responded.

University spokesman Anthony de Bruyn said in an email to the Cavalier Daily that the university objects to Thomas’ allegations. “The University remains confident in the integrity of its rigorous admission process. There is no evidence to support this speculation.”

Thomas brushed off the university’s denials: “It is also imperative that U.Va., end this potentially illegal practice immediately and that President Sullivan issue an apology to the many deserving students in Virginia who have been denied admission under her watch because their parents could not or did not contribute money to the University.”

Bacon’s bottom line: Given the evidence I’ve seen, it seems clear that the advancement office sought preferential consideration of rich-kid applicants. The question in my mind is whether the advancement office went through the motions of appealing to the president’s office so they could go back and tell their donors, “Hey, we tried,” or whether advancement officials truly expected the president’s office to intervene. The ultimate question, of course, is whether the admissions office ever caved in to a special request.

When I was publisher of Virginia Business magazine, the sales guys frequently brought me special requests from advertisers asking for preferential editorial treatment. I’d say, “No,” and the sales guys would go back to their clients and say, “We gave it a shot.” Sometimes we’d lose an advertiser, but sometimes the client felt grateful that the sales guys made an effort on their behalf.

That’s the innocent explanation of what’s happening at UVa.

Denials from the university administration are to be expected, however, and no serious journalist would accept its word on the matter without vetting it thoroughly. After all, UVa would be the exception if it didn’t play favorites. On the other hand, while giving preferential treatment to rich kids might be bad optics, it’s not clear from the Cavalier Daily article upon what grounds the practice would be illegal, even if proven to be true. I would be astonished if the U.S. Attorney picked up the case.

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17 responses to “Author Files Suit to Spur Investigation of UVa Admissions

  1. Based on everything I see, if there a way to take (and spend) other people’s money) nothing is out of bounds at UVa. On the other hand, UVA’s admitting children of rich parents might be a good thing in numerous ways, adding some normality and rational thinking to a process which is sorely lacking in my view.

    For example, UVa, has such a huge complex about how the SAT scores of Virginians they are “forced” by the legislature to admit lowers the schools overall SAT average, that its on a jihad to lure a many kids with “perfect” 1600 scores on their SAT tests as money will buy.

    Aa result, UVA lured into this years entering class (coming in last fall) a total of 255 students with perfect 1600 scores, up from the previous years freshman class of 184 students with perfect 1600 scores. How much do you think this US News and World Report ranking quest component cost. It’d have to be a bundle.

    Here is who UVA is chasing madly, those schools whose average SAT score are in the top .01% of all students taking SATs.

    1/ The one critically important requirement for admittance to a highly select university or college today is scoring in top 1% of college boards (SAT). That requires a composite score of at lease 1450. Hence the top ten

    a/ University of Chicago – Average SAT Score 1520 (ranked #3)
    b/ MIT – Average SAT Score 1490 (ranked #7)
    c/ Harvard – Average SAT Score 1481 (ranked #2)
    d/ Princeton – Average SAT Score 1480 (ranked #1)
    e/ Washington University in St. Louis Average SAT Score 1475 (ranked #19)
    f/ Harvey Mudd College Average SAT Score 1471 (ranked #21)
    g/ Northwestern University Average SAT Score 1464 (ranked #12)
    h/ John’s Hopkins Average SAT Score 1464 (ranked #10)
    I/ University of Pennsylvania Average SAT Score 1457 (ranked #8)
    J/ Brown University Average SAT Score 1451 (ranked 14)

    • Interesting, Reed, what’s the source for your SAT data?

    • U.Va. should be applauded for chasing excellence. Why wouldn’t Virginia want out-of-state kids with 1600s on their SATs attending school (and hopefully living and starting businesses here) in Virginia?

      The 21st century is simply a competition for brains. Nations, states, and localities are going to prosper or fall based on the brainpower they attract.

      Virginia is stupid to require an in-state kid with 1200 on his or her SATs to get a slot at U.Va. instead of a kid with a 1550 SAT from out-of-state.

      • Why should we not want to retain Virginians, and offer them the resources that Virginians have set aside for public institutions with the chartered mission of educating Virginians? If we were talking about private colleges here, none of this would be discussed.

      • Perhaps Virginia should redirect Medicaid payments to wealthy citizens. Let’s be honest, the wealthy pay more in taxes. Isn’t it in the Commonwealth’s best interests to keep them health and at work for as long as possible?

        Your comment s beyond absurd for a public university.

        • Not absurd at all. UMich is quickly getting to the point of 50/50 in-state and out-of-state students in its undergrad program. It is a public school as well.

  2. Rich kids are more “normal?” What a strange comment.

  3. The numbers of perfect SAT scores Reed cited (255) were the number admitted, not enrolled. There is a lot of competition for those, which typically eats up a lot of aid. Although aid can come from endowments (e.g. Jefferson Scholars), it also comes from reallocating tuition payments, so it is another item that drives up cost, particularly when the competition is so well funded. I think that was part of Reed’s point.

    I believe the SCHEV site has average in state and out of state SAT score data. My recollection is they are not as far apart as you might think. I may look when I have time.

    • Izzo –

      You raise an interesting and telling clarification. Here is the relevant quote from the March 28, 2016 Cavalier Daily article.

      ““We are especially pleased that so many strong first generation students applied this year,” Roberts said. “As a result, we offered admission to 937 first generation college students, as compared to 775 last year — so it’s a significant increase.”

      SAT scores were also up from previous years. The average score for those admitted to the class of 2020 is 1400, up five points from the class of 2019’s average of 1395.

      More significant increases were seen in the number of perfect SAT scores. This year’s admitted class includes 255 students with a perfect score on the 1600 scale — a noticeably large change compared to last year’s 184 students. The number of students who earned a score of 2400 also saw a sizable difference, with 79 students this year — up 29 from last year’s total.

      Of the accepted students, almost 93 percent are in the top 10 percent of their high school class.”

      Of course no information was published as to how many perfect SAT score applicants accepted UVA offer to admit.

      The entire article can be found at: http://www.cavalierdaily.com/article/2016/03/university-releases-admission-decisions-for-class-of-2020

  4. Email correspondence from Jeff Thomas:

    Good article on UVA. It’s all very troubling.

    I would add that the potential illegality arises from the fact that UVA is government, and you can’t give money to the government in exchange for special favors under the table. That said, I’m not a lawyer. I hope that the US Attorney’s office for the Western District of Virginia will conduct a fair, open and impartial investigation to determine what crimes, if any, have occurred, and that UVA will end this potentially illegal practice immediately and issue a public apology.

    I think there’s a good chance they will seriously examine the matter, but I can’t predict how far it will go. I hope that no bribery has occurred.

    Copying my complaint below and attaching the UVA documents.

    ====================

    To Whom It May Concern:

    I recently received documents from the University of Virginia (UVA) in response to a state FOIA request. I am including these documents for your review. They are also available publicly online through a number of media outlets.

    These documents show that UVA officials have, since at least 2008, gathered financial and other intelligence on the families or contacts of applicants to its undergraduate program. They indicate that students’ admissions chances were affected by the receipt or potential receipt of donations to UVA.

    For one of many examples, a handwritten note of “$500k” was coupled with notation showing the student’s admissions status changing from Denied to Waitlisted.

    UVA is a public university, and the Board of Visitors (Board) of UVA is its governing body. In Virginia, the Board is appointed by the governor, subject to confirmation by the legislature.

    Independent analyses have demonstrated that the Board is almost entirely composed of donors who give large sums of money to state politicians, particularly gubernatorial campaigns. Board members are unpaid, but they receive some reimbursement and other financial benefits from the state.

    The current President of UVA, Teresa Sullivan, is mentioned in these documents, as are the names of employees in her office, the office of advancement (fundraising), and the office of admissions. The President of UVA is appointed by the Board and is a state employee. The employees in the advancement and admissions offices are also state employees. They are government officials subject to anti-corruption laws.

    UVA is the flagship university in the state, and is responsible for billions of dollars in economic output and tens of thousands of jobs and students. In the state legislature, 12 Delegates and 6 Senators attended the school, as did the Attorney General and Speaker of the House. I think it is highly likely that the names of Board members, major political donors and legislators were redacted from these documents. Anybody familiar with the reality of political and economic power in Virginia understands that the state is incapable of policing itself in this matter.

    To name one example of the impunity with which UVA high officials operate, the Board revealed in the summer of 2016 that over the past twenty-five years, during a time of continued budget cuts and tuition increases, they had secretly amassed a $2.2 billion extra-legislative, extra-endowment “Strategic Investment Fund” that they would now spend in their sole discretion. This represented a larger surplus than the entire state government had available. So far as I can tell, nobody faced any sanction, and there was no independent investigation.

    Many stories and editorials related to these documents have appeared in a number of outlets, including the Washington Post, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Charlottesville Daily Progress, and Cavalier Daily, as well as Virginia public radio (WVTF), and the Charlottesville CBS affiliate (WCAV). A UVA spokesperson has released a bizarre written statement contending that these documents have no effect on the admissions standards of UVA, and that it is common for other universities to engage in this practice. To my knowledge, there has been no other public response from any UVA official.

    Most of the information that would further reveal the seriousness and scope of this bribery scheme was redacted. It is therefore critical that an independent federal body with subpoena power investigate the long term, large scale scheme revealed by these internal documents. The state is conflicted.

    I do not feel it is necessary to further describe the reasons why a federal investigation of this is imperative. The documents speak for themselves.

    I am happy to answer any questions you may have, and I look forward to your reply.

    Sincerely,

    Jeff Thomas

  5. It has often been said that a Fish has no idea that it is swimming in water. So every fish would be shocked, indeed SHOCKED, to learn that water was its habitat.

    Yesterday, I received From UVA at least four requests for money.

    UVA’s goal for yesterday alone was to raise $One Million Dollars in a single day. That is where we are today – a million is chump change, one days worth of giving to UVA, by UVA’s standards.

    UVA Today is swimming in other people’s cash.

    UVA appetite is voraciously eating through other peoples money.

    Recall the $60 Million to rehab the Rotunda. It matches what all US taxpayers had to spent, $60 million, to rehab the FAR LARGER and far more elaborate US Capital Dome.

    Where did all that $60 million go for that little Rotunda Building? Does anybody know? Does anyone care? Should anybody have a right to know? After all, UVA now wants another $200 million to rehab. the rest of Mr. Jefferson’s original little academic Village.

    UVA can’t get enough of other people’s money. Remember UVA is a WORLD HERITAGE SITE. Surely the UN will donate millions to UVA too.

    UVA’s business plan builds its future around other peoples money. That business plan’s central driving idea is for DONATIONS of other people’s money be their principal and most reliable source of long term cash in the future to add to the $2.1 billion cache it most recently engineered and crowed about as a break through in Higher Education. In truth it appears most likely to have been the primarily the fruits of long planned break in robbery of hospital patients and others being serviced (i.e. milked) by UVA.

    The sad truth is this it state of elite higher education in this country today. If you want to play in the Ivy League, you gotta do, what you gotta do.

  6. getting the US Attorney’s office to “investigate” a “practice” that people don’t like to “see” if there is something possibly illegal about it?

    good lord!

  7. UVa is increasingly looking like a criminal enterprise. Needless to say, our state government will do nothing. That’s a given. Remember the promise to call UVa executives to testify before the General Assembly over the multi-billion dollar slush fund? Another empty threat from The Imperial Clown Show in Richmond.

    Perhaps the Trump Administration needs to start looking at a RICO investigation of UVa.

    • Yes, and lets include in your list of odd behaviors the long promised law firm report on the 2014 Jackie matter – where all of that story started years earlier, who nurtured it along for years and then promoted it, and managed and grew it, and who authorized Congressional testimony on it in summer of 2014.

      And who then stayed actively involved though the summer and early fall of 2014 until matters went dark and/or out of control for a month or two, and then, when the story was published, jumped back aboard the accusation train as if shocked and surprised and outraged by what they already knew much about, but now suddenly began a political maneuver to make hay and gain political advantage over innocent people about their claimed participation in an alleged criminal matter that never happened. Why no promised report on that to get to the truth.

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