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UW-Madison

UW-Madison officials reviewed their admissions policy in the wake of a national scandal known as "Varsity Blues."

An internal review of UW-Madison’s admissions policies found no exposure in the “Varsity Blues” admissions scandal that rocked several elite institutions earlier this year.

However, the university’s deputy athletics director said the department has made several changes to their controls process that will require coaches attest to individuals’ athletic ability and increase communication between the department and admissions staff.

The changes will provide additional layers of checks and balances, officials said.

Federal court records unsealed in March implicated wealthy businessmen, high-powered attorneys and well-known celebrities for paying a college preparatory businessman to get their children spots on sports teams or better standardized test scores.

Some university athletic coaches at big-name schools such as Georgetown University and the University of Texas-Austin were accused of facilitating students’ acceptance to their teams despite the students lacking the athletic ability needed to play.

Steve Hahn, UW-Madison’s vice provost of enrollment management, and Christopher McIntosh, deputy athletic director, discussed their review Thursday with the audit committee of the University of Wisconsin System’s governing board at UW-Milwaukee.

Hahn and McIntosh said their review found the university has the right procedures in place to reduce the risks that some institutions tied up in the Varsity Blues scandal fell vulnerable to during their admissions processes.

UW-Madison’s athletic department has a longstanding requirement that students coded as athletes must remain on the roster for at least one year. Coaches must provide information about a candidate’s athletic ability, and the university limits who can code a student as an athlete, McIntosh told the UW System Board of Regents.

Now, coaches will also have to sign off on the accuracy of the information he or she provides regarding candidates’ athletic abilities.

Admissions staff will also provide athletic department compliance staff with a list of all admitted students coded as athletes at the end of each semester to compare to the roster.

There are some cases in which athletes may not have participated that season, but remain on the roster, McIntosh acknowledged.

“But there’s all kinds of logical and understandable reasons for that,” he said. “In the event there aren’t, (the list) will give us something to dig into.”

Top-tier pressure

Varsity Blues — the U.S. Justice Department’s largest-ever college admissions prosecution — underscored the lengths that wealthy and privileged parents would go to get their children accepted into top-tier schools, even if it meant buying a spot that would have gone to a more deserving student.

“The national story talked a lot about these side doors for athletes and other populations,” Hahn said in an interview. “At UW-Madison, admissions is the front door to this university and the only door.”

UW-Madison has no minimum test score cutoff or formula to determine an applicant’s acceptance, he said. Each application — and UW-Madison received nearly 43,000 last year for the Class of 2022 — is read by at least two admissions staff members, each of whom are trained to report any “oddities or concerns” to an admissions director.

The decision made by those two individuals is typically final, though Hahn also said audit procedures are in place to assess any irregularities.

While the university’s application asks if family members are alumni, an applicant’s legacy status or ties to a donor does not play a role. There is no separate pile for those applications or any priority status structure, he said.

No input

UW-Madison leaders do not weigh in on admissions decisions, he said.

Chancellor Rebecca Blank said she is “regularly” approached for admissions help, often from alumni and donors. She said her response to those types of requests is simple: “I cannot get involved with admissions.”

She said she sends their information to the admissions office.

Hahn said letters from university leadership may be added to an applicant’s file, but notes or comments are left out. In his roughly six years in the position, he said he could not recall receiving any endorsement from the chancellor for a particular applicant.

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Kelly Meyerhofer covers higher education for the Wisconsin State Journal. She can be reached at 608-252-6106 or kmeyerhofer@madison.com.