OK, we've been a little behind on the Story of the Month, but we've got a doozy for you now. This week the Daily Bruin at UCLA broke a major investigative story on preferential admission practices by the university's prestigious orthodontics residency program.
In an investigation that took more than four months, Robert Faturechi, the newspaper's enterprise editor, found that the residency program had violated University of California policy and standards governing public schools by giving special admissions consideration to relatives of major donors.
"In this unprecedented practice within the School of Dentistry, applicants related to donors giving six-figure gifts were automatically advanced over other students despite their lower test scores and grades," the story said.
"This was definitely the hardest story I’ve ever done," said Faturechi, a senior who has worked on the Daily Bruin since his freshman year. "It was several months of really hard work."
The university had already investigated the allegations and found “no credible and convincing evidence that deals were made or understandings reached to admit an applicant in return for donating money to the school,” according to an internal audit.
But the Daily Bruin found evidence, including e-mail messages and internal documents, showing that the orthodontics program had systematically advanced applicants related to major donors over more qualified students.
The Daily Bruin Web site included links to documents, including the audit and a letter of resignation from a faculty member who quit in protest of the university’s inaction on the allegations of admissions impropriety. It also included graphs depicting the university's increasing reliance on private donations.
No-Hee Park, dean of the School of Dentistry, said in a prepared statement that the admissions program was fair and based on merit.
"While an independent investigation requested by Acting Chancellor Norman Abrams found no credible and convincing evidence to support allegations of a legacy program in the orthodontics admissions process," Park said, "it did provide us with an opportunity to review our admissions policies and procedures and make improvements in the areas of oversight and transparency."
The story was picked up by several major media outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and even The Drudge Report.
Faturechi said he first learned about the story from an e-mail tip.
"Most of the time when you get e-mails like that there’s nothing to them," he said. "I gave the guy a call and he sounded fairly legitimate so I drove out to his house. He had some documents to support what he was saying."
Faturechi said it was a difficult story to report, because many of the key sources declined to be interviewed or were hesitant to talk. "I had to be persistent," he said. Others, however, were outraged and willing to share their views.
"Some of the folks I talked to take great pride in the program and they were frustrated with what they had seen had happen. They wanted to clean things up."
Faturechi said investigative stories like this one renew his faith that journalism is alive and well.
"A lot of folks say good print journalism is dying," he said. "If my friends are any indication, that’s not true. My editors and fellow reporters at the Daily Bruin are incredibly committed to covering our community well. There is still a passion for print journalism."