UCLA Medical School Denies Whistleblower Allegations, Claims Students Admitted ‘Based on Merit’

Admissions officers say the school lowers standards for minorities in an effort to boost diversity.

University of California, Los Angeles campus (Twitter)
May 24, 2024

The dean of the University of California, Los Angeles, medical school on Friday denied allegations that it lowers academic standards for minority applicants, asserting that admissions decisions are "based on merit" and made in compliance with state law.

"There have been false allegations about [the medical school] in media outlets," the dean of the medical school, Steven Dubinett, wrote in an email to students and faculty, referring to a Washington Free Beacon report about the school’s admissions policies. "We want to affirm here that both [medical school] students and faculty members are held to the highest standards of academic excellence."

Dubinett also claimed that "medical student final exam scores are well above the national average." It is not clear whether he was referring to the shelf exams—standardized tests that up to 50 percent of some UCLA cohorts now fail, according to the school’s own data—or to some other test. Dubinett and UCLA did not respond to requests for comment.

The defiant message comes in the wake of whistleblower allegations from eight UCLA professors—four of whom have served on the medical school’s admissions committee—that the school holds black and Latino applicants to lower standards than their white and Asian counterparts.

That practice, admissions officers said, is at least partly to blame for UCLA’s high failure rates on the shelf exams, which are taken after each clinical rotation and test basic medical knowledge. Nationally, only 5 percent of students fail those exams.

The whistleblowers described a pattern of discriminatory behavior from the medical school’s dean of admissions, Jennifer Lucero, who has allegedly attacked admissions officers for raising concerns about minorities’ test scores and brought up race explicitly in admissions discussions. She has also argued for moving residency applicants up and down her department’s rank list based on race, according to sources with firsthand knowledge of the matter.

Experts told the Free Beacon that such behavior violates Proposition 209, the California state law that has banned affirmative action at public universities since 1996, and the United States Constitution, which the Supreme Court ruled last year bans affirmative action nationwide.

"Highly qualified medical students and trainees are admitted to [the medical school] based on merit in a process consistent with state and federal law," Dubinett wrote.

Though he claimed "false allegations" had been made, Dubinett did not specify which parts of the Free Beacon report were false or deny the veracity of lecture slides showing a sharp increase in the number of students failing their shelf exams. He also did not mention Lucero, the dean of admissions, by name.

The email noted that the school has launched a review of its first-year curriculum, which underwent significant changes in 2020 and now includes a mandatory course on "structural racism." The review was announced after the Free Beacon published the entire syllabus for that course, prompting outrage from Jeffrey Flier, the former dean of Harvard Medical School, who called it "shocking" and "totally inappropriate."

One unit promoted Los Angeles's King/Drew hospital as an example of "community health." The hospital, which was the subject of several legal challenges over its affirmative action policies, closed in 2007 after multiple patients died as a result of clinical errors.