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A little light reading

Friday, May 29, 2009

* As part of its “Clout goes to college” series, the Chicago Tribune sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the U of I asking for various information on how state legislators and other politicians backed student applicants. The university has now made those documents public.

Much of it is a bit muddled and difficult to get through, but these two in particular show notes and e-mails on specific politicians about applicants. I have only skimmed them, but perhaps you’d like to help with the research….

* Document 1
* Document 2


Hardy said the list - dubbed “Category I” - contains more than 100 potential students each year whose applications legislators and trustees have been asked to check on by constituents, typically parents or other relatives of the applicants. This year, there are about 160 on the list, he said.

He said only some of those are admitted and noted that other universities keep similar lists.

The Tribune says 1,800 pages of documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show 77 percent of the 800 students placed on list since 2005 for admittance to the Urbana-Champaign campus were accepted. Meanwhile, the acceptance rate among other applicants stood at 69 percent. […]

Students accepted from the list who were freshman in 2008 on average ranked in the 76th percentile of their high school class, the Tribune said. The same year, the average high school ranking among all freshman was in the 88th percentile.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - A Citizen - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 2:10 pm:

    Well, by golly ! If I need a little help gett’n into Neurosurgery Skool I’ll be call’n on Speaker Madagin fer shur. Yoo Betcha !!!

  2. - 47th Ward - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 2:19 pm:

    Anybody ever heard of the FERPA law? Student privacy laws are for suckers I guess. I suspect Hardy might pick his words more carefully when he gets desposed over this. Anybody awake in the university general counsel’s office? This is pretty strong evidence of noncompliance with federal law.

  3. - Vote Quimby! - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 2:20 pm:

    ==02/05/09: email to Dr. Marshall from Mary -
    Hello Dr. Marshall,Terry has returned from
    Session today with the above applicant
    names. These are extremely important and
    we would like to push these if possible. Very
    important. Both are CATI.==

    I found this part most interesting—I don’t know the principals involved but this makes a connection between session activity and pushing for students. I can’t help but think of the better-qualified, less-connected student who didn’t get to pursue their dream… oh well, a life lesson learned! Not to say the connected kids aren’t good students, they’re just not GREAT students. Either pony up for a private school or find one that fits your needs. One engineering transfer student had a GPA of 2.51 but the school required 3.0–if they get in, they are being set up to fail.

  4. - Drip Drip Drip - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 2:30 pm:

    Cindy,We have been contacted about the
    above LAW applicant. He is not in BANNER
    yet so I have to guess that his app has not
    been processed at all yet. This person is very
    important and has priority support. Thank you Sen Durbin

  5. - bob the builder - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 2:30 pm:

    So, can I have Cross or Madigan call into my professors and get my grades changed as well?

  6. - Captain Flume - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 2:34 pm:

    Public education at its finest. Glad taxpayers get equal treatment, if they pay their taxes to the right politician, that is. But TII.

  7. - Willie Stark - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 2:35 pm:

    Out of 26,000 aplications last year, the focus is on 160 individuals who had a good word put in for them. Doing a little math here, that is 0.6%. It appears,too, that not all of those 160 were eventually admitted. Seems a bit low on the outrage meter to me.

  8. - Anonymous - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 2:37 pm:

    As a parent of kids applying to colleges, this is more infuriating than any of the pseudo-scandals the various ethics proposals are trying to “correct”. What an outrageous abuse of power! What arrogance on the part of these legislators that they would justify this as “constituent services”? Their culture is so incredibly detached from anything resembling normality. Unbelievable!

  9. - Lincoln Parker - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 2:38 pm:

    Well no surprise in IL, this happens at every school, private & public to some degree. Private schools can even take donations straight from alumni to make these decisions.

  10. - Vote Quimby! - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 2:40 pm:

    Willie–how much in terms of employee time, resources and denied opportunities did those 160 in-kids cost? Enough to fund a full-time teaching position? Possibly…As a borderline-qualified U of I applicant back in the day, I take this personally as well.

  11. - bob the builder - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 2:40 pm:

    Email from Herman:

    Dear Campus Community

    I am writing you to respond to today’s story in the Chicago Tribune
    regarding admissions policies at Illinois.

    Let me state at the outset that I have full confidence in our Office of
    Undergraduate Admissions and its professional and dedicated staff led by
    Associate Provost Keith Marshall and Director Stacey Kostell. The
    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has an admissions process based
    on integrity and fairness, one that produces an incoming class that ranks
    among the best academically in the nation. Our graduates go on to do great
    work in the world and, in turn, they reward us through their support and
    loyalty as Illinois alumni.

    It is no secret that competition for admission at Illinois is stiff.
    Thousands of people contact University administrators and others with ties
    to the university every year in regard to the admissions process - 2,300
    calls alone are received by the admissions office on the first decision
    day. This year, the university received 26,000 applications for only about
    7,000 seats in the incoming class. For the Class of 2013, the average ACT
    score was 28 and the average high school class rank was in the 88th
    percentile. We are proud of this tradition of academic quality.

    As a land grant university we remain committed to be inclusive and
    accessible in our pursuit of academic excellence. We seek to represent as
    closely as we can the full demographic of the state. With that in mind, we
    will continue to look at academic qualifications and other pertinent
    information included in each application while asking whether we believe
    the student will succeed at our university.

    Admissions is not a science. However, we welcome the challenge the Tribune
    story presents to make every possible effort to ensure the integrity our
    admissions process.

    But given our high retention rate and the many successes of our graduates,
    we believe we mostly get it right.

    Richard Herman

    This mailing approved by:
    The Office of the Chancellor

  12. - Tom Joad - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 2:42 pm:

    Is there a list of U of I trustees who have pushed unqualified applicants for admittance?
    Or are the trustees also considered politicians?

  13. - siriusly - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 2:43 pm:

    I am with Willie Stark. I think this is much ado about very little.

    This story is really about the Tribune trying to get 3 days worth of newspapers sold for with a bunch of FOIA documents showing stuff that is really rather routine. They lead with Rezko, but don’t even get into the details about the percentages and fail to mention that not every clout list applicant gets admitted.

    I wonder what the success / graduation rate of these clouted students is. I bet very high.

    During Joe White’s interview with WGN the U of I president essentially said that they do the same thing at University of Michigan and every other highly competitive school.


    I’m sorry, did someone say that the Chicago Tribune was involved in trying to get money out of the state for Wrigley Field in exchange for firing an editorial board member who was critical of Blagojevich? Yes, I thought so.

  14. - Vote Quimby! - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 2:43 pm:

    Great scoop, Bob….I think you left off the part at the bottom where it says “P.S. This is Illinois.” :=)

  15. - Chad - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 2:48 pm:

    This has been going on for years. The other public universities do it as well, although there is not as much demand for their admission slots (other than the professional schools). This is really no big deal, as it is hand-holding that legislators can report back to their friends. When an applicant gets in on her own merit the legislator gets credit and everyone is happy. When she is denied, the reaction is that “everything possible” was done, and everyone is still happy. Maybe there are some exceptional admissions, but apparently not many, according to the stats White is citing. The universities have a lot on the line in Springfield, and are in a tough spot here. They have to be responsive, so don’t blame the university lobbyists. All that said, the universities have not done well capital or budget-wise by the General Assembly and Governor these past 8 years, so the hand-holding service has not really paid off. I find most interesting that the Tribune article claims the Blago-appointed U of I Trustees themselves are involved with this type of activity. Now that is new, and a reflection that the U of I trustees are now appointed rather than elected. These appointees also have to do their political duty for their sponsors if they want to be on good terms. Too bad Edgar was sold on the idea of demoting the U of I trustees from elected status by do-gooders who claimed this would “remove the Big U from politics”. I always thought Edgar was for sound public policy, so I bet he now regrets that action.

  16. - George - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 2:52 pm:

    Good thing that the legislative branch are the good guys. Otherwise, this would be corruption.

  17. - Chad - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 3:02 pm:

    I just saw the Herman letter, and really had to chuckle at the tin-ear approach. I guess he is neither admitting nor denying that his campus engaged in this activity, and simply wants his faculty to “trust him”. In terms of retaining faculty support, this is about as adept as White’s disasterous handling of the Global Campus initiative (one of White’s five principal goals he announced on becoming President). Wow. These guys really need help.

  18. - Just Me - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 3:03 pm:

    Can’t wait to see how much pay was spent to play.

  19. - Arthur Andersen - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 3:06 pm:

    Might also want to match the list of Cat 1 with GA Scholarship recipients…

  20. - Fire Ron Guenther - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 3:10 pm:

    If only UI had kept Chief Illiniwek, all of this would have been avoided. Up yours President White!

  21. - shore - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 3:25 pm:

    Those of you who say that this is easier than a private school have no idea what you are talking about. My top 5 east coast school alma mater has seen its state funding drastically cut and so needs the donations. This however is a state institution and the people doing it are the same corrupt thugs that have state politics focused on the job you haven’t done for 7 years rather than the job we’d like you to focus on doing like restarting our economy.

    This is a state university and comes with a bunch of leaders in springfield that put Marie Antoinette to shame and deserve the political guillotine. Love to hear what suburban parents whose biggest focus is the educational opportunity for their kids think of this insider b.s.

    That state rep that said he does college admissions? Are you kidding me? Bad enough Senator Garrett hands out these pathetic patronage lollipops called scholarships, now these folks want to run the university system. Chairman McKenna’s probably out playing golf and trying to save his dunder mifflin paper company today since any political heavy lifting that doesn’t involve Mark Kirk’s career doesn’t seem to interest him.

  22. - Steve - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 3:41 pm:

    This could be a glimpse of state run Obamacare. You’ll call the right politicians and get to the front of the line.

  23. - ReitsKK - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 4:05 pm:

    I can’t tell whether Kristen Richards–the Senate President’s chief policy person these days–appears to be making a request on behalf of Governor Blagojevich or whether she is the object of a request by Rep. Kosel?(Document 2).

  24. - GetOverIt - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 4:05 pm:

    Here we go again. Much ado about nothing! If your kid has a 31 ACT and a perfect G.P.A. these factors do not automatically qualify a person for entry. FYI, look at the Harvard’s and Yale’s of th world, many of the students at good schools are not exceptional. Rather, they had a “word” or two uttered from a very important fundraiser, alumnus, corporate head or elected official. So the grades and scores your kid earned are wonderful, but they are not the ball game.

    Ho hum, get a life and get over it!

  25. - Secret Square - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 4:12 pm:

    As Willie Stark said, in the grand scheme of things this may be a minor scandal in that it involves only 0.6 percent of all the U of I applicants last year.

    However, it’s something most voters can grasp or identify with and therefore more potentially explosive than other things that have a much greater fiscal or social impact.

    Not everyone understands pension funding, bond issues, fund sweeps, the intricacies of campaign finance law, etc. But they DO know how they would feel if they or their child were denied admission to the college of their choice in favor of a less-qualified applicant who pulled the right strings.

    Things like this, or the legislative pay raises, or the Congressional bounced check scandal in the 1990s, inspire a disproportionate amount of outrage because they represent things the average Joe instantly recognizes that THEY could never get away with.

  26. - Pelon - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 4:12 pm:

    “He said only some of those are admitted and noted that other universities keep similar lists.”

    - The old “everyone else is doing it” argument. That never worked on my mother, but it will probably work on the average Illinois voter.

    I think this type of list at a minimum violates the spirit of the state ethics laws. I would like for the Attorney General’s office to investigate, but I doubt that will happen.

  27. - make it so - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 4:21 pm:

    I wonder how many of these kids also received schlorships from their congressman…

  28. - Rick - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 4:29 pm:

    “This could be a glimpse of state run Obamacare. You’ll call the right politicians and get to the front of the line.”

    I hate to tell you, but that’s healthcare is already run. I know of someone who recently didn’t like the treatment they got from Northwestern hospital, so they called up a prominent hospital donor from their room. Within an hour, a senior exec of the hospital was in their room and ensuring they were treated more nicely. So don’t blame health care reform for cronyism and preferential treatment that already exists.

  29. - Ms Port Belly Mushroom - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 4:47 pm:

    –Get Over It–

    Again, Rodspeak. “Everyone does it so it’s no big deal. I should get mine, too.” Eventually doesn’t someone step up and say “Maybe because it has always been done that way doesn’t make it right?”

    Secret Square catches the wave: Average parents can relate to this. The problem is that, as with all “throw out the bums” movements, everyone wants to throw out everyone else’s bum–just not their own.

  30. - Darcy - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 4:58 pm:

    This is such a non-story. We’re talking about legislators being allowed to select one (ONE) applicant from their district to recommend for admission into a state university. A student needs a politician’s recommendation to get into West Point, the Air Force Academy and other military universities. They aren’t uniformly recommending the top qualified students. Other criteria are considered. So much for the best and brightest argument, huh. Of course it could be argued that there are things other than scholastic achievement that commends potential students. So why is that true of tuition free military universities and not state universities?

    This hysteria about clout isn’t worthy of a 4 year old.

  31. - Pothole - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 5:02 pm:

    To receive an offer of appointment to the Naval Academy, an applicant must obtain a nomination from an official source. There are many nomination sources and applicants are encouraged to apply to all available sources. This normally includes a U.S. Representative, two U.S. Senators and the Vice President of the United States.

    Man, the Naval Academy is really corrupt. You can’t even apply with out political backing.

    This whole story is overblown . . . unless they can prove something more sinister than putting a good word.

  32. - 47th Ward - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 5:16 pm:

    ===This whole story is overblown . . . unless they can prove something more sinister than putting a good word===

    Unless the Tribune can find a more qualified student who was bumped in favor of a politically connected applicant with poorer academic credentials. Not sure one exists, but the very thought of that, hypothetical though it is, should be enough to justify a modest amount of of outrage.

    Re: my earlier post on FERPA (Google it), I meant if Tom Hardy (or others at the school) got deposed in a civil case over this.

  33. - Central IL Guy - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 5:26 pm:

    Of course we shouldn’t be surprised with this sort of insider lobbying activity, but that doesn’t make it right. Which one of you who thinks this story is “overblown” wants to be the one to tell a student applicant they he/she missed the cut because a less qualified individual had the support of a local legislator or university trustee? If I read the article correctly, the university is supposedly telling applicants not to submit letters of recommendation. You can’t have it both ways.

  34. - Ms Port Belly Mushroom - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 5:34 pm:

    –Darcy, Pothole, et al–

    I must not be reading the same story. What I read said that some of those rejected had the right of appeal. The kid who had the 31 ACT and the 4.1 GPA said he wasn’t aware that there was a right to appeal–and he was a legacy. Is there a blanket right of appeal for all students who are rejected? This didn’t imply one student for one legislator. Look at the list. Read the article. Saviano was top cop with 20 or more. Look at the acceptance rate for those on the A list.

    To me, the only people who are defending this are a) the one’s who have engaged in it or b) the one’s who have someone who benefited from it. Why would mom and pop blogger think this was an okay practice,huh?

    Overblown? Yes. If you want the story to go away. I, for one, hope it doesn’t.

  35. - this old hack - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 6:06 pm:

    Terry McClelland is mentioned in the story as the U of I lobbyist. Is that the same guy that was the House Clerk under Daniels 2 year reign of errors? And Tom Hardy is still there?

    Will these guys be eligible for “fumigation”?

  36. - Amy - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 6:19 pm:

    the one word that pops out in this story is Rezko. and that is probably what makes it a story to be read. Rezko lines are being followed everywhere to wherever they lead. this may be a small percentage but it stinks. and, as for private institutions, i’m well aware at one with which I am closely linked that even a trustee could not get a highly qualified applicant in. U. of I. in particular has a bizarre rep. talk to high ranking officials who have left and you will hear stories, so this one is not a surprise, but it is sad and wrong.

  37. - Steve - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 6:27 pm:

    Time to praise Hillsdale College in Michigan which takes no money from the federal government. It’s one of the only TRUE private colleges in America. If they want to lower standards at a private place it’s no one’s business. This is a story because behind every public institution are politicians. In Illinois that means corruption.

  38. - Pelon - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 6:32 pm:

    Anyone who compares this practice to the admission policies of the service academies is misguided. While most people who apply to the service academies require a nomination from an elected representative, that nomination is supposed to be competitive, open to the public, and based on the merits of the applicants. Once nominated, the individual still has to meet the service academies admissions standards. Since most applicants are nominated by an elected official, there are limited reasons for them to select candidates based on their “connections”.

    This system is completely different than a secret process used by politicians to get marginally qualified candidates selected over better ones.

  39. - wordslinger - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 6:33 pm:

    Believe me, this resonates with people, especially the parents of kids who have been shut out of U of I.

    We’ll see whether this is a big deal or not. Considering White’s already flipped today, I’ll bet it is.

  40. - UofI Alum - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 8:28 pm:

    Shore, did your top 5 school not teach you about punctuation, capitalization, and grammar?

    Let’s be honest, the reason this is offensive to people is because it involves politicians. Is this any worse than legacies having a better chance of admittance? The children of professors get to go to school for free at California state schools (among others.) I don’t hear outrage at their special treatment.

  41. - Arthur Andersen - Friday, May 29, 09 @ 11:22 pm:

    UofI Alum, as a fellow “legacy,” you should know that the only way our children are getting a leg up on their peers for admittance to the Big U, ceteris paribus, is if we as parents are feeding the Foundation Beast bigtime, or if we are going the political route. With 4 apps for every slot, being an alum’s kid just doesn’t matter anymore.

    BTW, ANY U of I employee’s kids get tuition waivers (if they get in.) That’s one of the reasons the campus senate and other group keep their yappers shut about the GA Scholarships.

    Good post, pelon re: the service academies. For those who don’t know, it’s harder to get into Annapolis than Harvard. (AA would always hire the USNA grad later in life, but that’s just me.)

    word, I have to agree that this has the potential to hit hard. I know that I would have gone ballistic had my kid not been admitted to the UI and then I learn Rezko clouted in his son through the freakin’ President of the University.

    White and Herman, along with those nitwit lobbyists, need to go. Herman is all about seeing his creepy little face on TV, in print, and even on the jumbotron at football games. (Herman-looked great on TV Wed. squiring Burris around)
    White is almost as bad, with the 50% effete intellectual and 50% Jed Clampett persona he has adopted turning off many loyal Illini.

    The Undertaker once again spins in his grave.

  42. - Squideshi - Saturday, May 30, 09 @ 9:05 am:

    I have a hard time not thinking that this makes everyone’s UIUC degree worth at least a little bit less, and that’s the real tragedy here.

  43. - disgusted - Saturday, May 30, 09 @ 9:31 am:

    Its so obvious that the U of I has used taxpayer dollars to hire professional blogger/marketers who are rebutting on this site to counter attack this issue and maintain their reputation and thereby their donation and grant stream. Our public universities claim to adhere to and teach our children the highest of ethical standards (see U of I ethics policy) …standards which the head of their admission office has violated. the culture of corruption is soooo pervasive in Illinois……..dont we deserve REAL campaign reform? i hope the trib looks at EVERY university, college, etc in the state….since the auditor generals office does not.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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