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Friday, June 26, 2009

Illinois Admitted Unqualified Applicants in Exchange for Gov. Blagojevich's Help Getting Jobs for Grads at Bottom of Class, to Boost Law School's Ranking

In today's Chicago Tribune, U. of I. Jobs-for-Entry Scheme; E-mails Reveal Law School Put a Price on Admission of Unqualified Candidate:

What does it cost to get an unqualified student into the University of Illinois law school?

Five jobs for graduating law students, suggest internal e-mails released Thursday.

The documents show for the first time efforts to seek favors -- in this case, jobs -- for admissions, the most troubling evidence yet of how Illinois' entrenched system of patronage crept into the state's most prestigious public university.

They also detail the law school's system for handling "Special Admits," students backed by the politically connected, expanding the scope of a scandal prompted by a Chicago Tribune investigation.

In one e-mail exchange, University of Illinois Chancellor Richard Herman forced the law school to admit an unqualified applicant backed by then- Gov. Rod Blagojevich while seeking a promise from the governor's go-between that five law school graduates would get jobs. The applicant, a relative of deep-pocketed Blagojevich campaign donor Kerry Peck, appears to have been pushed by Trustee Lawrence Eppley, who often carried the governor's admissions requests.

When Law School Dean Heidi Hurd balked on accepting the applicant in April 2006, Herman replied that the request came "Straight from the G. My apologies. Larry has promised to work on jobs (5). What counts?"

Hurd replied: "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."

Hurd's e-mail suggests that students getting the jobs are to be those in the "bottom of the class." Law school rankings depend in part on the job placement rate of graduates. ...

The e-mails paint a picture of how law school officials operated a parallel admissions review for clouted students. They withheld denials until the year's end, cleared decisions with top university administrators, and debated whether to accept candidates with stronger credentials -- or stronger connections. Several clouted students received full-ride scholarships.

In private, law school officials showed their disdain for the special admits and even worked behind the scenes to campaign against them. At one point in March 2007, Hurd asked staffers to collect data about how the clouted students performed at law school to provide a weapon against their admittance. ...

But their dislike of the program didn't stop administrators from accepting the students. "I'll do my best to keep the number of Provostian admits to a minimum, and extract payment for them," Hurd wrote to her admissions staff in 2003.

(Hat Tip: Inside Higher Ed.)

Update:

http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2009/06/illinois-admitted-unqualified.html

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Comments

If this doesn't show how silly the ratings game is, I'm not sure what will. BTW which state and party did Obama come from, I can't quite remember?

Posted by: mike livingston | Jun 26, 2009 6:42:17 AM

Unfortunately, this is not surprising. I'm sure that similar admissions occur across the country (law schools, undergraduate institutions, etc.). What is shocking is that some of these student received full-ride scholarships! It seems unfair that these funds would go to someone admitted on the basis of their connections to deep pockets.

I'm also inclined to agree with Dean Hurd that these students don't perform well once admitted. So of the 5 jobs promised to the bottom of the class, how many are filled by the clouted students admitted on the basis of their political connections?

Posted by: WR | Jun 26, 2009 10:29:09 AM

We have the newly released emails up at LSH.

http://lawschoolheadlines.com/the-university-of-illinois-emails-and-some-fun-excerpts/

Posted by: LSH | Jun 26, 2009 12:12:00 PM

This raises a really interesting question: how common are non-merit based admissions?

WR thinks they're common. My sense is that they're pretty rare. In my years on the admissions committee (not where I currently teach--I haven't served on admissions in a very long time) I never once saw a person admitted because some "important" person leaned on the administration. That's only one school and so it's not representative.

One benefit of the obsession with US News and its focus on objective indicators (I'm thinking primarily of LSAT) is that explanations of denials of admission are easier to explain to politicians and donors and other powerful people than they used to be. It's easy to say, "well, X scored at below our median." That and -- "go to a school you got into and if you do well, you can transfer."

Posted by: Alfred | Jun 27, 2009 7:22:59 AM

I'd like to see these practices discussed in the context of affirmative action - not just in law schools, but in higher education in general. This has been going on, obviously, for hundreds of years, and has undoubtedly benefited economically privileged white applicants with sub-par admission credentials.

Why not the same outrage against this as with minority AA? Why no state ballot initiatives banning preferences for money/influence?

And how did George W. Bush get rejected from Texas Law, but accepted into Harvard business school with pathetic grades? Hmmm...

Posted by: Bob | Jun 27, 2009 10:12:45 AM