U. of I. leaders urged to resign

| 13 Comments | UPDATED STORY

Fallout from questionable admissions practices at the University of Illinois continued today as a state representative called for the resignation of the school system's president and the trustees who meddled with student applications.

 

State Rep. Mike Boland (D-East Moline), chairman of the state House Higher Education Committee, said President B. Joseph White and other university leaders betrayed the public's confidence by giving preferential treatment to politically connected applicants.

"They were trusted to protect our university," Boland said. "In my eyes, they failed in that regard and they should resign."

A university spokesman said he does not expect any resignations and that the university is taking steps toward restoring "public confidence in the integrity and fairness of University of Illinois admissions."

Boland, whose name does not appear on the university's patronage list, also wants Gov. Pat Quinn to appoint a panel to investigate the shadow admissions systems chronicled in a recent Tribune series. After reviewing more than 1,800 pages of documents, the Tribune found subpar applicants gained admission to the Urbana-Champaign campus with the sway of state legislators and university trustees during the last five years.

About 800 students' names have been placed on annual lists since 2005, according to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. It's unknown how many would have qualified for entry on their own, but their acceptance rate is higher than average --  even though records show patronage candidates, as a group, had lower average ACT scores and class ranks than all admitted students.

During the last five years, more than 100 politicians, most of them Springfield lawmakers, forwarded applicant names to the university's lobbyists, a practice that resulted in the students being placed on the clout list, university records show. However, Boland did not call for any elected officials to resign, saying they must answer to voters in the next election unlike the governor-appointed trustees.

The Tribune review found that trustees backed applicants who were friends, neighbors and relatives. Several trustees also said they forwarded requests from people they didn't know but who contacted them because of their position with the university.

While some trustees and lawmakers said they didn't realize there was a separate category for their requests, the records showed they needed only to forward a name and a few vital statistics to have the student placed in it.

Trustee Kenneth Schmidt repeatedly forwarded applicant names, even asking Chancellor Richard Herman when he could "check up on my crop en masse" in a 2006 e-mail. Trustee Larry Eppley passed along a request in 2005 from then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who wanted one of Tony Rezko's relatives admitted. And current board chair Niranjan Shah pushed for a student to be admitted to the MBA program even though Herman warned that school officials "had serious concerns about his ability to handle the academics."

"I am outraged trustees and individuals within the upper levels of the university administration are apparently actively helping under-qualified and unqualified students get admitted," Boland said. "Admissions to a public university, one of the best schools in the country, should be based on merit, not knowing a trustee or elected official."

The university suspended the clout list -- known internally as Category I -- last week and announced plans to appoint a panel to examine the process and suggest ways to avoid political pressure in future admissions decisions. The task force will report to university trustees, the same group whose bold and repeated admission requests fueled the Tribune's report.

Boland said the university cannot be trusted to investigate itself, especially after officials defended the list's usefulness as way of tracking inquiries.

"It should be an outside investigation so we can get to the bottom of this," he said.

Boland sent a letter to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) last week, asking permission to hold legislative hearings on Category I. Madigan -- who is tied to more than 40 names on the clout list since 2005 -- has defended the practice as good constituent service and would need to approve Boland's request.

A U. of I. spokesman said the president and board of trustees would cooperate with the hearing process.

"The university will participate in any hearing the legislature decides to undertake, making ourselves available for testimony and providing whatever materials are requested," spokesman Tom Hardy said.

If Boland's hearing request is denied, he says he would like Quinn to initiate a public inquiry and subpoena documents, including the names of Category I applicants, to determine whether trustees or lawmakers had financial or political incentives for helping students. U. of I. officials redacted student names in documents released to the Tribune, citing privacy laws.

The governor's spokesman said Quinn will make an announcement about the U. of I. admissions controversy  this week.

Quinn does not appear on any of the clout lists maintained by the university.

Since the Tribune series ran, university officials have moved to restrict university lobbyists' access to the admission office's database after documents showed admissions officers feared the government affairs office was sharing confidential information with lawmakers and the families of well-connected students.

U. of I. also has promised to make an unadvertised appeals process -- an option used to keep politically connected applications alive -- more public.

--Stacy St. Clair and Jodi S. Cohen

13 Comments

Red Heart on June 7, 2009 10:25 PM

"Boland, whose name does not appear on the university's patronage list, also wants Gov. Pat Quinn to appoint a panel to investigate the shadow admissions systems chronicled in a recent Tribune series."

Would this be the same Quinn that came up with a Panel to help with reform recommendations for the State that Congress basically tore up and threw away? If so I guess The University will receive it's 'Panel's' report and continue with the 'Clout System'. It's become clear that Quinn is not interested in 'rocking the boat'. He was clearly in the position to put up a big stink, and embarrass congress to do something of substance regarding reform, I guess a backroom deal was more favorable to him..

Why is this startling information to anyone? Sadly I think there are a lot of statewide/nation-wide scams that occur in big business, academe, sports programs et al.

If these people are still enrolled at the University,
they should have to reapply.

Michael Moon on June 7, 2009 11:32 PM

Maybe we're being too hasty. Perhaps the University could provide some evidence that the students admitted in this manner performed just as well as students who actually, uh, EARNED their admission.

The fact that Speaker "Madigan -- who is tied to more than 40 names on the clout list since 2005 -- has defended the practice as good constituent service" speaks volumes. Is there any aspect of any agency or activity in any level of Illinois government that is not hopelessly corrupt? And, is there any hope of the citizens of this state ever electing an honest government? Or are we all fated to live as Diogenes in ancient Athens: in extreme poverty, and searching for a single honest man.

Kathleen on June 7, 2009 11:48 PM

Boy it kind of sounds like AFFIRMATIVE ACTION, where you get priviledges just because you are a Certain Someone!
It's like a Free Pass! Half the world is on a free pass, & that's why we have so many problems in the world today.
Uneducated fools in all walks of life, & nobody cares anymore,
because they know people who will take care of everything!
Hey, Let's open the door to some more unworthy people.
Pretty soon the whole world will be ignorant & uneducated!
I wonder who will sneek these people through the rest of their life, when they leave college.
Remember when you earned things in life? When education was something you actually achieved for yourself, so you could be proud when you graduated? What happened to those days?
What happened to having a conscience?

Scalpel 10 on June 8, 2009 7:26 AM

Prosecute private citizens, but not the influence peddlers/politicians. How so normal in Illinois!

The Democrats in Illinois seem to believe that the voters in Illinois are ignorant & uneducated and the voters seem to agree with them. The logo on top of Illinois license plates should read LAND OF FOOLS.

Both sides on June 9, 2009 10:04 AM

"The Democrats in Illinois seem to believe that the voters in Illinois are ignorant & uneducated and the voters seem to agree with them."

Mike Madigan may be the poster boy for corruption in this state (now that Blago is gone) but it's not just the Dems who've abused this system. Don't forget that Illinois Repubs and Dems are both hopelessly corrupt.

I hear a great deal that the University's President should resign and that might not be a bad idea. However, how about the politicians who pressured the University to admit their "special" students? Shouldn't they resing also?

Boland is on record as stating that he does not think the legislators should resign, that it is "the publics" responsibility to vote them out.

Hogwash. This IS the problem with Illinois politics -- the lack of "the top" for taking responsibility for "the top". The cancer of corruption in Illinois starts at the top and decends down from there. It took a FEDERAL inditement to get us rid of Blago, when almost everybody in the state knew he was corrupt.

The legislators (and lobbists) control the State (and The U of I's) pursestrings. How irresponsible would it be for UI administrators to ignore the pressure from the politicians and risk a retailiatory 'No' vote on UI Budgetary monies?

Illinois politicians on both sides of the aisle need to "man up" and clean up their own house & senate before asking the littler guys to fall on their swords.

I fail to see how anyone's resignation helps the situation though -- more corrupt pols will just take their place. Legislators that used their influence need to be FINED for each student they improperly influenced into attending the U of I. Those monies go into the University Budget, for it was the University that was damaged by the legislators.

Do we not have an Ethics committee in our house/senate? Granted, it's a bit like the fox guarding the hen house... perhaps we need a citizen-based house/senate ethics committee in Illinois...

It just never ceases to amaze me ... pick any, ANY, aspect of Illinois government, and there is patronage, fraud, etc. Can you trust anybody living in that state?

Fire the trustees and the university officials involved.
This will send a clear message to individuals who might want to indulge in this form of deceit of the public.

Dan, U of I Alum on June 20, 2009 1:02 PM

Other than Edward McMillan who apparently recommended no candidates to the University, EVERY SINGLE TRUSTEE SHOULD RESIGN, AND RESIGN NOW! By their actions they allowed the stench of political influence and pay-to-play culture to descend upon the University of Illinois. In doing so, they failed their trust. "Not knowing about Category I" is no defense, either. Their duty as trustees was to the school and all the people of Illinois, not just to the "connected."

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