Richard Blum, a wealthy investment banker and Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s husband, is the UC regent who inappropriately penned a letter that likely helped an unqualified student gain admission to UC Berkeley.

An explosive state audit released Tuesday found that dozens of students were admitted to the most selective UC campuses over more qualified applicants because of exaggerated athletic abilities, connections and wealth. In one case, an unidentified UC regent was found to have intervened on behalf of an applicant who had little chance of being admitted through traditional channels.

The audit did not name the individuals involved, instead using generic terms like “coach” and “donor.” The auditor’s office said the lack of identification was meant to protect student privacy. But in response to a specific question about the identity of the regent involved, spokeswoman Margarita Fernandez confirmed the report refers to Richard Blum.

In a phone interview Thursday, Blum said he did not recall the specific incident mentioned in the audit, but that he has written letters on behalf of students to chancellors at various UC campuses for years.

“This is the first time I’ve heard that maybe I did something that wasn’t right,” Blum said. “I think it’s a bunch of nonsense.”

The regents oversee and make decisions about how the state’s most competitive public higher education system should run. Blum, a Cal alumnus, was appointed as a regent in 2002 by then-Gov. Gray Davis and reappointed in 2014 by then-Gov. Jerry Brown. His 12-year term is set to expire in 2026.

According to the audit, Blum sent a letter in support of a still-unidentified student to the chancellor after the student was placed on UC Berkeley’s waitlist. The chancellor’s office sent the letter to Cal’s development office, which forwarded it to the admissions office. And despite the fact that the applicant had around a 26% chance of being admitted based on the ratings assigned to their application, they were accepted.

The admissions office consulted with the development office about who to admit, and prioritized applicants recommended by staff and those on a list created by the former admissions director.

“It is therefore likely that the applicant whom the regent recommended would have been on a list that received priority admission from the waitlist,” the audit said. “Given the low likelihood of this applicant’s admission and the prominent and influential role that regents have within the university, we conclude that the decision to admit this applicant was likely influenced by the regent’s advocacy.”

Blum said he never thought the letters “ever had much influence.”

But the audit called the incident “particularly problematic,” since UC policy specifically says that regents should not seek to influence admissions decisions beyond sending letters of recommendation through the regular admissions process, which Blum appears to have sidestepped.

It’s not the first time Blum has caused a stir. Two years ago, Feinstein did not disclose that Blum owned more than $100,000 in Facebook shares until after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified to the Senate. At the time, her office told this news organization she doesn’t discuss her husband’s financial transactions with him and that it was reported when the mistake was discovered.

Regarding the broader audit’s finding that UC admission practices have given less qualified students access to elite schools while leaving more qualified peers holding rejection letters, Blum said he thinks the process is very fair and done based on merit.

“I find this,” he said, “to be much ado about nothing.”


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