In recent years, three professors from the UCLA School of Dentistry allegedly targeted international postgraduate students to pay additional fees for attendance and personally profited from the solicited fees. Complete details of the investigation are not fully public, but the allegations underscore the potential for abuse of international students in the American higher education system. While the professors have resigned their positions, an ongoing legal battle over the disclosure of the scheme highlights lingering questions related to the incident.
Allegations of Profit-Sharing Scheme
According to a recent article from the Los Angeles Times, certain orthodontics residents were required to pay additional fees for their education, directly benefitting certain professors who received incentives and bonus compensation for the payments. The additional fees were not necessary and were in addition to the extremely expensive tuition at the institution. According to the UCLA School of Dentistry website, the four-year cost of attendance in the program nears $400,000.
Following a whistleblower complaint in 2018, UCLA investigated the allegations and commissioned a law firm to investigate wrongdoing on the part of certain professors. According to their report, professors targeted Middle Eastern students, believing their wealthy government sponsors “could – and would – pay for it.” The professors involved with the scheme then disguised the payments and diverted them for personal benefit.
Continued Battle Over Investigative Report
With the investigative report detailing a significant breach of public trust by a public university, the professors and the university appear to be fighting tooth and nail to conceal the contents of the report from public scrutiny. Each of the three professors involved in the scheme entered settlements with the university and has since resigned. While formal charges were filed against one professor, those charges have since been dismissed. The other two professors incurred disciplinary proceedings, but those, too, have been stopped.
The legal battle over the report found its way to the Los Angeles County Superior Court last June, when Judge Mitchell Beckloff agreed that the report should be released, noting that “Petitioners worked at a public university. They were professors occupying positions of trust, responsibility, and authority. The allegations of misconduct are unquestionably serious and substantial. The public has a strong, legitimate, and weighty interest in knowing whether and how the university enforces its rules.” The professors appealed Judge Beckloff’s decision, and UCLA continues to withhold the report from the public.
UCLA Declines to Disclose Details Related to Scheme
To date, UCLA has opted against releasing settlement records or dismissal notices that could contain more details related to the scheme. Currently, it remains unclear how many students were targeted and how much money was unlawfully diverted from them.
UCLA boasts its commitment to transparency on its website, noting the University values “open access to information, free and lively debate conducted with mutual respect for individuals, and freedom from intolerance.” While the legal battle over the details of the scheme continues, UCLA must consider its mission and disclose the details of the scheme which, by all accounts, involved the intentional targeting of international students by UCLA professors for personal financial gain. Anything short of full disclosure of the details of this incident poses a significant and long-term reputational risk for the institution.