Stanford University is "moving swiftly" to tighten its policies on donations and athletic recruits, as recommended by an international law firm brought in to review university procedures in the wake of the national admissions scandal that implicated a Stanford sailing coach.
President Marc Tessier-Lavigne announced in a letter Tuesday that the firm, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, found no evidence of other fraud in the admission of student-athletes between 2009 and 2019. Former Stanford head sailing coach John Vandemoer was one of 50 people indicted in the scandal, which involved alleged bribes totaling $25 million in exchange for help getting students into top universities. It was led by Newport Beach resident Rick "William" Singer, whom parents paid tens of thousands of dollars to falsify scores on college entrance exams and athlete profiles to guarantee admission.
The widespread scam, dubbed "Operation Varsity Blues," renewed with furor deep-seated debates about the inequity of college admissions, privilege and the immense pressure students and parents feel to attend elite universities.
Vandemoer, who had accepted nearly $800,000 in bribes earmarked for the sailing program, was sentenced in June to a day of incarceration, which he had already served; two years of supervised release, with the first six months to be served under home detention; and to pay a $10,000 fine. He acknowledged that he had accepted these contributions to the sailing program in exchange for recommending two prospective students for admission to the university. Neither of these two had completed the application process and neither was admitted, according to Stanford. (Stanford terminated Vandemoer from his position the day charges were announced.)
Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP attorneys found that Singer had directly or indirectly approached seven Stanford coaches about potential recruits between 2009 and 2019, though there was no evidence that any other employee engaged in the scam. The attorneys interviewed more than 55 people and reviewed more than 35,000 records for the review, Tessier-Lavigne said.
"However, there was no systematic way for concerns about Singer to be elevated and addressed, to ensure increased attention by others he attempted to contact," the university president wrote.
The law firm made seven recommendations to "ward off future misconduct," all of which Stanford plans to adopt.
"It is imperative that Stanford has the necessary safeguards in place to engender trust and confidence in the integrity of our programs," Tessier-Lavigne said. "Our resolve in this regard has never been stronger."
Stanford plans to adopt a formal written policy to codify its stance on donations and athletic recruits, which is that "admission of any applicant, student-athlete or not, cannot be bought, and no donor should ever be under the impression that it can," he wrote.
The law firm also recommended that Stanford adopt a written policy stating that fundraising results are not considered as part of an athletic coach's performance evaluation.
Stanford plans to add further safeguards to the donation process, including a requirement that development officers independently verify the source and purpose of any significant donation to the Athletic Department and that an Office of Development official meets with a prospective donor along with a coach and any athletics staff. Coaches will also receive "enhanced training" on the fundraising process and new gift acceptance policies.
Coaches will be required to flag to the admissions and development offices of any case in which a recruit came to their attention through a third-party recruiter or consultant and the name of that person. The law firm also recommended that if athletics staff "have concerns about the ethical behavior of a third-party individual, the concerns should be elevated and investigated to determine if the individual should be on a watch list to ensure increased attention by others interacting with the individual."
To improve communication between coaches, athletics administrators and the Office of Development, Stanford plans to create a "clear delineation of responsibilities" among these groups.
"Taken together, these steps provide for clearer policies, more training, fuller communication and stronger vetting that will serve as a bulwark against fraudulent efforts in the future," Tessier-Lavigne wrote.
Stanford will conduct another review within the next year and a half to ensure the recommendations have been put in place and are being followed, he wrote.
On advice from the state Attorney General's Office, Stanford will redistribute the $770,000 in funds from Singer to an organization or organizations that support "financially challenged" high schoolers working toward college admission, Tessier-Lavigne said Tuesday.
This spring, in response to the scandal, Stanford Athletics also created a new protocol to have more oversight over recruits recommended by coaches: a member of the executive leadership of the athletics department responsible for each of Stanford's 36 varsity men's and women's sports will review and confirm the athletic credentials of all recruits.
In April, Stanford announced that it expelled a student who the university determined had falsified his or her college application and who was connected to the nationwide college-admission fraud scheme.