It’s hard to say what’s more troubling: an audit showing systematic nepotism, sham recruitments and falsifying of records among mid-level managers at the University of California’s newest campus or top administrators choosing to release the findings long after the fact and buried in an innocuous-sounding webinar.

The discovery of years of nepotism, abuse and dishonesty at UC Merced – and the cagey release of the audit results – fits a pattern at the University of California seen last year in the investigation and resignation of then-UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi after allegations of nepotism, conflicts of interest and misuse of student fees. The pattern was again seen in a recent state audit showing the office of UC President Janet Napolitano controlled a $175 million off-books fund, had paid above-scale salaries to top administrators and had interfered with the efforts of state auditors.

The common thread here? Individuals – from the UC president to mid-level supervisors – are successfully carving out personal fiefdoms at the University of California’s campuses across the state, and in some cases, making it a family affair.

While top hiring administrators at UC Merced interpreted and debated the fine points of new decrees by the Department of Labor to enhance workplace diversity and inclusion, managers across the newly constructed campus in Merced were bypassing HR and hiring their spouses and relatives. In effect, no one was minding the store.

One facilities manager – sold on the benefits of cronyism – casually told auditors: “It’s more efficient to just hire people we know.”

The results of the two UC Merced audits, which took place primarily in 2014 and 2015, should have been revealed to the public shortly after June 2015 when the report was issued and corrective actions were being taken. Instead, administrators sat on the results until December 2016.

Buried in the webinar and accompanying report with the upbeat title “Staff Hiring Practices – Working Across Functional Divides to Build Strength and Reduce Risk” was this: a “significant number” of selected candidates in the 39 recruitments sampled in the audits were relatives or spouses of current UC Merced employees.

The audits also revealed sham recruitments in which a hiring process was undertaken when someone known by the hiring manager had already been selected.  This is a common sign of nepotism and cronyism.  The audits found another sign of nepotism: Departments interviewed unqualified candidates while qualified candidates were never contacted.

It found issues in every division auditors at UC Merced reviewed, from business and administrative services, the chancellor’s office, development and alumni relations, the provost’s office (including library, IT, and schools), planning and budget, student affairs and the office of research.

Auditors also found the names of individuals listed as hiring committee members who hadn’t participated in hiring.

Signs of a problem at UC Merced came to light in the University of California’s most recent Annual Report on Ethics and Compliance. Two months after the release of that report, the webinar and accompanying report by three UC Merced administrators popped up on the site of the University of California’s Ethics, Compliance and Audit Services Web site. Buried in that material were the audits’ findings.

Besides revelations of favoritism, straw recruitments and zombie selection panelists, the sampling found:

Much irony lies in the disconnect between the diversity-crushing nepotism actually going on at the school and administrators’ focus on esoteric compliance points related to affirmative action.

If the corrective actions outlined in the webinar are successful, we can look forward to the current nepotism wave at UC Merced fully ending around 2050, when the last employee hired by relatives begins drawing a pension. But it’s a big if.

An earlier version appeared in the Merced-Sun Star.