Political Privilege & U. of Illinois Admissions:

The Chicago Tribune reports on a brewing scandal at the University of Illinois law school. Government officials pressured U. of I. administrators to admit politically connected but unqualified applicants. Paul Caron rounds up more coverage here.

As Brian Leiter notes, many of those attacking U. of I. officials are missing the bigger picture.

the University of Illinois is hostage to the public purse for a lot of its operations, so every request for 'special consideration' on admissions from a politician with influence on the purse strings comes with an implied threat: admit this student, or lose funding. One can be sure Chancellor Herman understands that. Attacking university officials over this scandal is like attacking the victim of a robbery for handing over his money.
Leiter concludes: "the same story is waiting to be written about admissions at every state university in the country." I would like to think that public universities in some states are more insulated from political pressure -- Illinois is Blago country, after all -- but that may be a bit naive.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Illinois Faculty Respond to the Tribune:
  2. University of Illinois Admissions
  3. Political Privilege & U. of Illinois Admissions:

University of Illinois Admissions

The University of Illinois admissions “scandal” has attracted a lot of coverage, including blog posts by Jon Adler, Brian Leiter, and Paul Caron. My friend and colleague, (former Dean) Heidi Hurd had a letter to the editor in the Chicago Tribune yesterday that is likely to be of interest to those following the issue. The key paragraphs are as follows:

Contrary to recent headlines, the College of Law did not seek or receive any jobs from anyone in exchange for the admission of students. It did not enter into a "jobs-for-entry scheme" or engage in quid-pro-quo exchanges of admissions favors for employment favors. Indeed, it takes very little to make clear that the employment challenges of students who are not academically successful could never be overcome by anyone's promises to furnish the College with job opportunities, as the recently published exchanges should have made clear. While my sarcasm was clearly lost on the tin ears of some, my e-mail exchanges in response to queries about this were on their face facetious.

In reply to a question about what jobs would count to meet the employment needs of students with poor academic predictors but powerful personal connections, I wrote: "Only very high paying jobs in law firms that are absolutely indifferent to whether the five have passed their law school classes or the Bar." There are, of course, no law firms that are indifferent to whether their attorneys possess law degrees (and one must pass law school classes to receive a law degree) or are members of the Bar (for one cannot practice law without Bar membership). And when asked whether such students might find employment in government positions, I was being equally sarcastic when I replied: "I'm betting the Governorship will be open. One of them can have that job. Other jobs in Government are fine, since kids who don't pass the Bar and can't think are close enough for government work." Inasmuch as I was a public servant at the time that I made these comments and have long been a scholar and teacher of political theory, my dismissive response was designed to convey the view that government, no less than private practice, requires the best and brightest.

A blue-ribbon state Commission is currently working to "review claims that certain applicants to the University of Illinois received special treatment based on political connections and recommend reforms to improve the fairness and transparency of the admissions process." Here is the agenda for the public meeting being held today.


Illinois Faculty Respond to the Tribune:

Larry Ribstein has posted a copy of a lengthy open letter from several prominent members of the University of Illinois School of Law faculty responding to the Chicago Tribune's breathless coverage and editorializing on the University's response to political pressure to admit unqualified applicants. It concludes:

The Tribune’s “clout goes to college” stories have all been about the abuse of power of University administrators and politicians. Newspapers also wield a great deal of power, and like all power, theirs too can be abused. Such is the case here. The Tribune should publicly apologize to those whom it has unjustifiably demonized. We are not so naïve as to expect this. Criticism such as this more often evokes anger than it does guilt. Indeed, we were advised against publishing this letter – “the Tribune has more ink than you do,” we were told. Yet “ink” is only as good as its content. What say you, Tribune? Can you own up to your mistakes and at least express remorse for unjustifiably damaging the distinguished careers that took lifetimes to build?
[Note: If you're going to comment on the substance of the letter, please read the whole thing before posting a comment.]

As I noted in my prior post, many of those commenting on this story seem shocked that a state-funded educational institution is subject to political pressure from state officials -- surely this cannot be news to folks at the Tribune! Yet there has been more criticism of the U. of I. than of the politicians who sought special treatment. Why is that?