USC launches internal investigation into alleged admissions bribery case

USC Admissions will rescind or deny admission to prospective students connected to the alleged admissions bribery case, President Wanda Austin said in a memo Thursday. Daily Trojan file photo.

Interim President Wanda Austin announced Thursday that the University is taking multiple remedial actions in the wake of an FBI investigation unsealed Tuesday about an alleged college admissions scam involving USC and several other universities in a memo sent to the USC community.

The Board of Trustees was briefed by Austin Thursday morning regarding the University’s actions, the memo said. The actions come after the FBI  released charging documents that revealed over 50 celebrities, executives and professors allegedly bribed athletic administrators, coaches and college entrance exam proctors to ensure their child would be accepted to universities like USC, UCLA, Stanford and Yale, among others between 2011 and 2019.

“These recent revelations run counter to our values, which prioritize admissions based on merit and opportunity for all qualified candidates,” Austin wrote. “Our record of diversity among students selected for admission is a particular point of pride for me.”

In the email, Austin announced that the University has launched an internal investigation into the scheme and will continue to cooperate with the Department of Justice investigation. The University has also begun identifying donations that were made in connection with the scam and will look to redirect the funds to create scholarships for underserved students, according to the memo.

“Moving forward, we will take all necessary steps to safeguard the integrity of our admissions process and to ensure we conduct ourselves with integrity and ethics consistent with our values,” Austin wrote.

Austin announced that USC rescinded and denied admission to applicants in the current 2019 admissions cycle who are connected to the allegations.

Additionally, Austin announced that the University will initiate a case-by-case review of current students and alumni who may have been connected to the scheme.

“We will make informed decisions about those cases as the reviews are completed,” Austin wrote. “USC’s Office of Professionalism and Ethics, Student Affairs and Admissions and Enrollments are conferring on this process to ensure the University follows the appropriate course.”

Homayoun Zadeh, a USC dentistry professor, was placed on leave after being named in the federal indictment, the memo said. Zadeh allegedly plotted to bribe former senior associate athletics director Donna Heinel to admit his daughter as a lacrosse recruit, though she never played the sport.

Heinel and water polo coach Jovan Vavic were terminated Tuesday for their involvement in the scheme.

“This leave is a required procedural step in the process for terminating tenured faculty,” Austin wrote. “More employment actions may be possible as new facts come to light.”