- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 15, 2003

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) The business school of the University of California at Berkeley, mindful of the scandals sweeping the corporate world, is on the lookout for ethics-challenged applicants this year, running background checks on prospective students and jettisoning some for lying.
Of 100 students who have qualified for admittance to the prestigious Haas School of Business, five were rejected last month after staff found they had made false claims on their applications, said Jett Pihakis, director of domestic admissions for full-time MBA programs.
One applicant awarded himself promotions; the others mostly fudged how long they had been out of work, Mr. Pihakis said.
All would have been admitted if they had told the truth, he said.
"They're really choosing to lie about things that they don't need to lie about," Mr. Pihakis said.
The five candidates were never told they were rejected for lying, simply that they had not been accepted.
Mr. Pihakis was inspired by the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, which recently began requiring applicants to pay a $35 fee to have an outside firm verify their applications.
"We wanted to warn the market, 'Don't apply to us if you plan to fudge your application,'" said Rosemaria Martinelli, director of MBA admissions and financial aid.
"What I hope to do through all this is to show that integrity is the most important thing," she said.
The practice of conducting thorough background checks on students is something new, said Carolyn Woo, chairman-elect of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. Even faculty resumes don't routinely get fact checked, she pointed out.
"There was this sort of honor code that your vita and your resume are truthful," she said.
Ms. Woo, dean of the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame, thinks running a check is probably a good idea in today's business climate, although she doesn't welcome the development.
"It's just a sad statement to get to this point," said Ms. Woo.
At Berkeley, which had been running random checks on applications, the decision to check all admitted MBA students was prompted in part by corporate scandals such as the $9 billion accounting fraud at WorldCom, which filed the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history last year.
The school expects more than 4,000 applicants this year, of which it will accept about 11 percent. The admission process is staggered, with applications divided into four groups. When the first group of candidates was considered, 100 students were deemed suitable for admission and their applications subject to verification.
Candidates were given the benefit of the doubt and there were some cases, not including the five ultimately rejected, in which prospective students were given the chance to explain minor discrepancies, which all were able to do, Mr. Pihakis said.
In the case of the five rejected applications, "we had definitive proof. There was no actual shade of gray at all," he said.
Mr. Pihakis said knowing students are everything they claim to be is worth the effort.
"I can honestly say I sleep better at night because it's just really nice to know," he said.

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