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USC information on college admissions issue

The U.S. Justice Department on March 12, 2019 announced an ongoing investigation of a college admissions matter that targeted several universities across the country, including USC.  This page provides information from USC about these issues and will be updated as new information becomes available.

What is USC doing in response to the U.S. Justice Department’s investigation?

We immediately terminated two employees associated with the allegations. We also placed on leave a faculty member who was named in the federal indictment as a parent. This leave is a required procedural step in the process for evaluating the termination of tenured faculty.

The university is conducting a full review of the matter and continues to cooperate with the U.S. Justice Department’s investigation. We are in the process of identifying donations that may have been received in connection with the admissions matter and determining how to redirect those funds.

We will take all necessary steps to safeguard the integrity of our admissions process and to ensure we conduct ourselves in a manner consistent with our values.

An internal investigation is continuing, including a thorough review of the student-athlete admissions process. While we have made changes to our procedures related to the admission of student-athletes, we are continuing to assess whether additional changes will be made.

What changes have you made to the admissions process for athletes?

USC has greatly strengthened its process for reviewing applications of prospective student-athletes, effective in April. The improved procedures provide multiple levels of oversight and ensure that our admissions staff receive accurate information about these prospective students.

  • Every student-athlete candidate’s file will be reviewed on three levels – by the head coach, the senior sports administrator overseeing the team, and the USC Office of Athletics Compliance – before being sent to the admissions staff.
  • The head coach will certify in writing that the student is not being recruited on the basis of actual or potential donations.
  • Athletic rosters will be audited at the beginning and end of every academic year and cross-checked with admissions lists.

This enhanced policy is currently in force and was used for any student-athlete considered for admission during the 2019-20 academic year.

How many current students are having their admissions reviewed?

The university has completed most of its reviews of potential admission violations by students who were enrolled in the spring 2019 semester, but some reviews are still ongoing.

USC determined which applicants for the 2019 fall semester were connected to the admissions matter, and they were denied admission.

Why is it taking so long to complete the reviews for the 33 students?

Each student is entitled to a fair and impartial process. Students are allowed a prescribed amount of time in each step of the process and are allowed to bring evidence, including witnesses, forward on their behalf. Given the seriousness of the matter and potential sanctions, it is especially important to be thorough. That process of receiving and evaluating information and evidence takes time, especially if that evidence is submitted late in the process or if students and their advisors or third parties choose not to cooperate or to delay their participation.

What are the outcomes for the students whose admission was reviewed?

The outcomes range from finding no violation to expulsion. Each decision is being made based on the facts of each individual case. No decision is made lightly; each is based on the totality of the relevant evidence.

Because this group of students is relatively small and USC is being careful to protect individual student privacy, we’re not providing a breakdown on case decisions. It would allow for the potential to connect findings back to individual students.

Are students allowed to appeal?

Following an initial review, a student found responsible for a violation of the student conduct code may file a written appeal with the university.

Are all of the students whose admission is being reviewed currently enrolled?

In March 2019, we placed holds on the accounts of students who may be associated with the admissions issue. Students who agreed to participate in the review of their case were allowed to enroll in classes for the fall and spring semesters. But holds remain preventing them from obtaining a degree or acquiring transcripts while their cases are under review.

We are unable to provide information about individual students because of student privacy laws.

What is the investigative process for each of the students whose status is being reviewed?

Students received written notification from the Office of Student Judicial Affairs and Community Standards (SJACS) that they were under review for potential admission violations and were given five business days to respond to schedule an interview with an SJACS review officer.

Students who scheduled interviews were allowed to have advisors present with them during their interviews. At the interviews, the students can provide information or evidence that they wish to have considered as part of the review. The students can also ask questions to better understand the process and the potential violation.

If students chose not to participate in interviews,  then the matters proceed to the next step of the SJACS process in which the investigators continue to collect evidence and complete their reviews based on the available evidence.

When an investigation is completed, a finding is made about what occurred regarding that student’s admission. If the investigator determines that the student violated university policy, then SJACS will assign an appropriate sanction, which can include expulsion.

Students may appeal a decision resulting from the review within 10 business days of receipt of the decision. The appeal goes to the Vice President of Student Affairs.

Why isn’t USC identifying potential students, current students and graduates involved in the admissions matter?

USC, like other universities around the country, must comply with a federal law regarding the privacy of student records called the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, often referred to as FERPA. According to FERPA, a student’s education records – including disciplinary records – generally may not be released without prior written consent from the student.

Do applicants need to sign some sort of attestation when they apply saying what is in their application is true?

Applicants traditionally have signed the attestation statement that is part of the Common Application, and beginning this year, they are required to sign an additional affirmation statement for their USC application.

Applicants are required to log into our system to sign the affirmation. Like all required elements, we won’t proceed with our review of their applications until they have signed the affirmation that they are personally responsible for what they submit.

How much money was involved and what is USC going to do with it?

We are in the process of identifying donations that may have been received in connection with the admissions matter and determining how to redirect those funds.


Published: January 17, 2020

USC information on college admissions issue

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