Monday, August 10, 2009

It's All About The Connections...

One might think that as a minister type, I am talking about how connected we all are, one to another, all over the world. Well, okay, there is this, "Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part," one of the Seven Principles and Purposes of the UUA, to which I ascribe. But that's not what I mean.

No, I am talking about political connections that can get you into the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. Like if you are related to Tony Rezko, for example. Oh, I am not making this up. It has been a big scandal in IL. Haven't heard about this? Huh - there's a surprise!! Ahem. Seriously, though, Board of Trustee members of the flagship university have been resigning like rats fleeing a sinking ship over this issue, including the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Niranjan Shah. Shah resigned earlier this month. Considering this story broke in MAY, it makes me wonder what took so long...

And about Tony Rezko's relative, the Chicago Tribune reported:
In one case, a relative of Antoin “Tony” Rezko, the now-convicted influence peddler for former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, got admitted after U. of I. President B. Joseph White wrote an e-mail stating that the governor “has expressed his support, and would like to see admitted” Rezko’s relative and another applicant.

White’s message to the university chancellor was passed on to admissions officials on the same day they entered a rejection decision for the Rezko relative. “He’s actually pretty low,” replied an admissions officer, referring to the applicant’s ACT score and other credentials. “Let me know when the denial letter can go out.”

Instead, the relative was admitted.

Since 2005, about 800 undergraduate students have landed on the clout list for the Urbana-Champaign campus. It’s unknown how many would qualify for entry on their own, but their acceptance rate is higher than average. For the 2008-09 school year, for example, about 77 percent were accepted, compared with 69 percent of all applicants.

Wow. It seems that maybe "Chicago-style" politics are actually "Illinois-style" politics. Especially considering what this means in terms of academics, and what the University President had to say about all of this:
That’s in spite of the fact that patronage candidates, as a group, had lower average ACT scores and class ranks than all admitted students, records show.

In 2008, for example, freshmen on average ranked in the 88th percentile in their high school class, while clouted students ranked in the 76th percentile.

High school counselors and admissions experts said letting clout affect admissions compromises the integrity of the university.

“Whether it’s [a Rezko relative] or any other kid who takes a spot, he typically takes a spot of someone who is more qualified. That’s the part that gets my blood boiling,” said Jim Conroy, a New Trier Township High School college counselor. “This is not a private institution. This is yours and mine. Our flagship state university should not be part of any political shenanigans.”

President White said it’s not unusual for selective universities to receive input on applicants from interested parties, and it’s important to have a system to track the requests. The additional information can help the admissions office make a more informed decision, he said – though the university discourages applicants from sending letters of recommendations, saying on its Web site that “sending unsolicited materials can be distracting.”

He declined to discuss specific cases, including the Rezko relative, but said: “I would never support admission of a student over better-qualified students simply because of connections and pressure.”

But the Tribune review of about 1,800 pages of documents shows politically appointed trustees and lawmakers routinely behave as armchair admissions officers advocating on behalf of relatives and neighbors – even housekeepers’ kids and families with whom they share Hawaiian vacations. They declare their candidates “no brainers” for admission and suggest that if they are not accepted, the admissions system may need revamping.

Um, well, yes - I would say that's a Newsflash from the Department of DUH on the whole revamping thing.

Here's what the investigation found: The investigation found:
–University officials recognized that certain students were underqualified – but admitted them anyway.

–Admissions officers complained in vain as their recommendations were overruled.

–Trustees pushed for preferred students, some of whom were friends, neighbors and relatives.

–Lawmakers delivered admission requests to U. of I. lobbyists, whose jobs depend on pleasing the lawmakers.

–University officials delayed admissions notifications to weak candidates until the end of the school year to minimize the fallout at top feeder high schools.

For example, this spring an applicant described as having “terrible credentials” by the undergraduate admissions office was denied admittance. She sought help from Trustee Frances Carroll, who encouraged her to appeal the denial – an option not mentioned in rejection letters or any university literature. Carroll forwarded the appeal to University Chancellor Richard Herman and sought his help. The applicant was admitted.

Then, to avoid drawing attention at the applicant’s high school, where her acceptance could raise eyebrows, documents show the university planned to wait until the end of the school year to notify the applicant.

Carroll said the Lincoln Park High School senior, whom she didn’t know, had a 3.2 grade-point average, participated in many extra-curricular activities and deserved a spot at U. of I. Carroll said she likes to help disadvantaged students who may not understand the system.

Patronage has become such an entrenched part of the admissions process that there’s even a name for the applicants with heavy-hitting sponsors: “Category I.”

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.

And many did so without reservation.

Doesn't this all sound eerily familiar? Sure does to me...


Alessandro Machi said...

If you had a share it icon I could share this story on

The title of your article would appear on Dailypuma, but then the article would still reside on your site and people could click on the title to go to your site.

I use " but if you have another one that can work also.

Rabble Rouser Reverend Amy said...

Thanks, Alessandro! I'll see what has...

And I am glad you WANT to share it! Thanks!