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Is that really all you got?

Tuesday, Feb 28, 2012

* The Chicago Tribune editorial board got all angry today at the University of Illinois for not giving them more information about college-bound kids whose parents or others asked legislators to make a call on their behalf

(T)he U. of I. continues its long effort to keep secret its data on 800 applicants who got special treatment from 2005 to 2009. That secrecy keeps Tribune reporters from exploring connections between politicians and clouted applicants.

The university claims that federal privacy laws are an issue. The Tribune disagrees and is suing.

This has been a very contentious issue. Parents who struggle to get their kids into the U of I were not happy to learn that legislators and others may have “clouted” kids in ahead of them.

But here is the Tribune’s big example today of what it calls a “protection racket”

Among the politicians involved: Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago. He made eight admission requests from 2005 to 2009; at least seven of the applicants were accepted. In one case, Cullerton asked about a relative of a real estate broker and lawyer who has attended Cullerton political fundraisers and is his former legal client.

The article quoted U. of I. official Terry McLennand asking then-Chancellor Richard Herman to help: “The (Senate) President thought this students scores seemed a little high for wait list and asked if we could intervene and admit the student at this time rather then waiting for the April decision date.” The student was admitted in April.

Um, huh? This is the big, unholy, outrageous, egregious politics-riddled, influence peddling violation?

To review…

    1) Cullerton makes a call for a friend to see if a kid really has to be wait-listed.

    2) The kid remains on the waiting list.

    3) Tribune editorial board screams about a “protection racket”

* And in case you weren’t suitably outraged about this horrible non-scandal, the Trib tossed in some diversionary red meat…

Cullerton, recall, is a chronic protector of the tuition waiver program under which legislators have awarded free rides at state universities to children of their cronies and contributors. That program needs to end.

* This, however, could be a big problem

The state’s controversial “legislative scholarship” program carries a simple rule for Illinois lawmakers: They may award tuition waivers for state-sponsored schools only to students who reside in the lawmaker’s respective districts.

But since 1999, state Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago) has awarded taxpayer-funded scholarships to at least 10 students who records show lived outside of her Far South Side district at the time they received free tuition, the Better Government Association has found.

State law says: “Each member of the General Assembly may nominate annually 2 persons of school age and otherwise eligible, from his district . . .”

Matt Vanover, spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Education, which administers the scholarships, said “the statute is pretty clear . . . students nominated must be from the [lawmaker’s] district.”

That program really does need to end.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - CircularFiringSquad - Tuesday, Feb 28, 12 @ 11:12 am:

    In case it is not obvious, the Tribbies continue to seek a national journalism prize for this slop…two years, zero awards…apparently they think yelling louder will really impress the judges. They won’t….. Send Jodie and Stacey back to Tempo …today.

  2. - 47th Ward - Tuesday, Feb 28, 12 @ 11:25 am:

    ===“the statute is pretty clear . . . students nominated must be from the [lawmaker’s] district.”===

    Or else what? What is the penalty for this, because if I remember correctly, Rep. Davis is not the only legislator accused of this.

    Yes, the legislative scholarships need to go, and so too does the interference of legislators. I know people say these are state universitities, and that legislators have an obligation to intercede on behalf of constituents. But when legislators get involved, little good seems to come of it. If you want the U of I to remain a world class university, keep the General Assembly as far away as possible.

    Give them football and basketball tickets and then stop returning their calls.

  3. - Shock & Awww(e) - Tuesday, Feb 28, 12 @ 11:28 am:

    I wonder if those Monique Davis out-of-district recipients are connected to any donors of hers?

    Nah. Couldn’t be.

  4. - Dirty Red - Tuesday, Feb 28, 12 @ 11:29 am:

    I’m a sunshine government guy through and through, but I’m with the university on this one simply because of this line:

    = That secrecy keeps Tribune reporters from exploring connections between politicians and clouted applicants. =

    Need we rehash how bad the Tribune is at reporting actual connections and corruption versus those it wishes was there? I wouldn’t trust the Tribune with that information either.

    I’m sure that’s not the main reason they are withholding it though.

  5. - Shock & Awww(e) - Tuesday, Feb 28, 12 @ 11:42 am:

    The frustrating thing is that Rep. Davis is a repeat offender with these out-of-district scholarships.

    As the article notes “There were at least eight other free-tuition recipients living outside of Davis’ district when they were awarded the perk, based on public records and interviews.”

    Rep. Davis’ out of district recipients according to a July 30 2010 chicagoist story:

    – Erin Collins (2007)
    - Jocelyn Davis (2003, 2004, 2005)
    - Ryan Fields (2008)
    - Cydnee Kennedy (2009)
    - Cornel J McKay Jr. (2005, 2006)
    - James McKay (2006)

    It’s not clear if Rep. Davis has any relation to the Jocelyn Davis listed as receiving a scholarship.

  6. - anon - Tuesday, Feb 28, 12 @ 11:52 am:

    How often can the tribune rehash the same story? Apparently there is no limit.

  7. - Boone's is Back - Tuesday, Feb 28, 12 @ 11:59 am:

    When will the Tribune ends its relentless and pointless crusade against U of I. How about an ivestigation into Chicago State.

  8. - mokenavince - Tuesday, Feb 28, 12 @ 11:59 am:

    These guy’s in Springfield are really big spenders
    when it dosen’t come out of their pockets.

  9. - PublicServant - Tuesday, Feb 28, 12 @ 12:17 pm:

    And this the day before HB 5531 is set for a vote in the Executive Committee. It does away with the 50% tuition waiver for children of University Faculty and Staff who have been state employees for 7+ years. This TW is a big recruitment tool for the U of I in attracting quality faculty and staff, and the children need to have the grades and scores to attend minus any clout, or no TW.

    Were you aware this was up for a vote Rich?

  10. - Fed up - Tuesday, Feb 28, 12 @ 12:29 pm:

    Hmm the state law is pretty clear and here is a violation in print yet Anita Alverez crickets chirping, Lisa Madigan crickets chirping. Anita and Lisa will never go after a part of the machine. I bet Lisa is looking up the address of a nursing home for a phot op as we speak.

  11. - Shore - Tuesday, Feb 28, 12 @ 12:51 pm:

    “this horrible non scandal” I would call kids getting rejected from college because some hack politician clouted a supporter’s kid in a scandal.

  12. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Feb 28, 12 @ 12:52 pm:

    ===because some hack politician clouted a supporter’s kid in a scandal. ===

    And this happened how with the Cullerton example?

  13. - enough already - Tuesday, Feb 28, 12 @ 12:57 pm:

    SInce the legislator “forgot” the rules…why didn’t the state board reject the student?

  14. - Michelle Flaherty - Tuesday, Feb 28, 12 @ 1:15 pm:

    Interesting intersection of issues and advocates today.
    You have the Sun-Times running a legislative scholarship “story” written by an employee of the BGA, an entity that is, in effect, lobbying lawmakers via petitions, emails, etc to abolish legislative scholarships while at the same time using issues such as the organization’s fight against legislative scholarships as part of its fundraising drive.

    Ah. Ethics.

  15. - Pot calling kettle - Tuesday, Feb 28, 12 @ 1:17 pm:

    Let me get this straight. If a constituent comes into a legislator’s office with a concern, the legislator is to say, “Sorry, I can’t help you”…yeah, right. Concerns about college admission are a top concern for parents.

    1) The legislator can and should make that call. It’s retail constituent service.
    2) The university should check to make sure there hasn’t been an error and report back.

    The problems arise when a legislator demands action counter to university policy or when someone at the university takes an action that violates university policy. In most cases, the parents just want to know that things are progressing as they should. The Cullerton case the Trib cites appears to be one where Cullerton stepped right up to the line and leaned over a bit in advocating for a constituent, but the U of I folks followed policy as they should.

  16. - Michelle Flaherty - Tuesday, Feb 28, 12 @ 1:21 pm:

    Unfortunately “State university follows guidelines in addressing possibly questionable inquiry from lawmaker three years ago” isn’t much of a story.

  17. - Davey Boy Smithe - Tuesday, Feb 28, 12 @ 1:34 pm:

    If a state law is broken, cannot Lisa Madigan or a state’s attorney go after the legislator?

  18. - reformer - Tuesday, Feb 28, 12 @ 1:43 pm:

    Students who accept tuition waivers sign a statement certifying they live in the legislator’s district. If that statement is false, perhaps the students should be required to repay the university.

  19. - 1776 - Tuesday, Feb 28, 12 @ 2:02 pm:

    We’re in a budget crisis as acknowledged by the Tribune. I propose eliminating the sales tax exemption for printing ink. Can’t wait to see them lobby against it.

  20. - TwoFeetThick - Tuesday, Feb 28, 12 @ 2:13 pm:

    If the Tribune, or any other media, ever publishes the names of these students, it better get ready to defend itself against a whopper of a class action lawsuit. A lawmaker simply enquiring about an applicant could have, without the applicant’s knowledge, gotten the applicant added to the “clout” list. Being publicly named to such a list could make their degree worthless. Who wants to hire a mechanical engineer who, it appears, didn’t earn their degree? They could be saddled with massive student loans and no career income with which to pay them back. What is the expected lifetime earnings of a mechanical engineer? That number is the starting point for damages.

  21. - 47th Ward - Tuesday, Feb 28, 12 @ 2:25 pm:

    Somebody at the Tribune should Google FERPA. Unless there is a legitimate academic need, no one, not even the parent who is paying the tuition, can access student records.

  22. - Shore - Tuesday, Feb 28, 12 @ 2:58 pm:

    In the past I’ve defended the Governor on this blog when Republicans hit him or other democrat elected officials on things like spending money on functions of government whether its plane tickets to examine state facilities or other stuff. These things are part of government. But this system was not part of government, it was another example of insiders gorging themselves on state resources.

    The Tribune seems to think there was pay to play or something bigger here. We’ll see.

  23. - Arthur Andersen - Tuesday, Feb 28, 12 @ 3:43 pm:

    “send them back to Tempo..” Excellent, CFS.

  24. - The Fox - Tuesday, Feb 28, 12 @ 3:51 pm:

    The Tribune appears to be on some bizarre, systematic attack on the University of Illinois forgetting the politico/admission brouhaha.
    Is it listening to a disgruntled clique or was some editor’s kid stiffed? Puzzling hatchet job.

  25. - To PCK - Tuesday, Feb 28, 12 @ 4:51 pm:

    I can see the advt already…”My son Bob was a straight A student but Rep. Soandso wouldn’t help him get in to a great state-funded school….”

  26. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Feb 29, 12 @ 7:58 am:

    I’ve read and re-read the Tribs U of I stories and editorials in desperate search for the steak behind so much sizzle. Still searching.

    Having said that, the Tribbies have done some excellent work recently on their “Focus” pages. Yesterday’s breakdowns of Arizona and Michigan are good examples.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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