The scandal involving University of Illinois Law School is getting worse by the day. We previously discussed the scandal involving the admissions process and the use of “special admits” where deans circumvent the usual process to guarantee admission for certain well-connected students.The Chicago Tribune continues to uncover shocking examples of manipulation of the admissions process at Illinois by politicians and donors. This may be an example of why admissions are like sausage and legislation — things that you should not watch being made.
The latest disclosure involves an unqualified student who was given admission in exchange for a quid pro quo arrangement — a promise of five jobs for graduates if the student was admitted.
Once again, the main culprit appears to be University of Illinois Chancellor Richard Herman who comes across more like a patronage boss than an academic. The other party is again former dean Heidi Hurd, who objects but does not appear to fight particularly hard for the academic integrity of the process or school.
In one e-mail exchange, Herman forces Hurd to admit an unqualified applicant backed by former (and now disgraced) Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Herman appears to have been negotiating with Blagojevich political operative and Trustee Lawrence Eppley. The student was a relative of major political donor Kerry Peck. Herman acts like a petty party functionary. When Hurd objects, Herman responds that the request came “Straight from the G. My apologies. Larry has promised to work on jobs (5). What counts?” Hurd responds with “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 then goes not to suggest that the five must come from the “bottom of the class” — presumably a way of increasing the school’s placement figures for the annual ranking by U.S. News and World Report.
Hurd treated the process as inevitable and, instead of refusing such admits, she promised to get a good deal, telling the admissions staff in 2003 “I’ll do my best to keep the number of Provostian admits to a minimum, and extract payment for them.”
The fact is that such special admits occur in some form in most, if not all, schools. Schools like to pick legacy admissions for families with multi-generations at the school and also favor the children of major donors. However, deans are expected to guarantee that such factors are given some but not determinative weight — requiring that the students be otherwise competitive and not substantially below admissions standards.
While Hurd can be criticized for failing to fight harder, she clearly did object to the process. Yet, the quid pro quo arrangement was an outrage and Hurd should never have participated in such an arrangement. There is a time when a dean should resign rather than allow such a corruption of the process.
The person most at fault is obviously Herman who should lose his job over this controversy. Herman abandoned any semblance of academic integrity and independence. He actively worked to corrupt the admissions process, even after the objections of the dean. The trading of unqualified admissions for jobs is an outrageous act for both Herman and Hurd. Eppley also needs to be removed from any continued position as trustee and barred from any later position of authority with the university.
I just spoke at the University of Illinois to a group of judges and I ran into a member of the Illinois faculty who expressed his utter disgust with both Herman and Hurd. What is sad is that this is one of the finest law schools in the country and both the students and faculty deserved far better treatment.
These emails demean the entire teaching academy and haggling over price like jobs does little to improve the situation. It brings to mind Winston Churchill’s famous exchange at dinner with a woman when he asked her if she would sleep with him for one million dollars. When she said that she would, he asked her if she would sleep with him for one dollar. She was deeply insulted and asked “What do you think I am, a prostitute?” “Madam” Churchill replied, “We’ve already established what you are, now we’re just haggling over the price.” It appears that the price at Illinois is five jobs. While I do not believe that many deans or provosts would have accepted such an exchange, there are many deans and provosts who are all too willing to haggle over price.
While some defenders suggest that this is an inevitable factor for any public school subject to legislative authority, I disagree. First, as a public institution, the provost and dean has an added obligation to guarantee the citizens of Illinois that these valuable slots are being awarded fairly and openly. Second, if the dean had fought this corruption, she would have had a large and powerful alumni in the state to back her. The Illinois graduates are fiercely loyal and hold powerful positions in the bar and the courts. Some of the judges who I spoke with last week were Illinois graduates and expressed outrage at the manipulation of the process. Finally, regardless of whether you are a public or a private institution, you have an independent obligation as an academic to protect the integrity of your school and the academy at large.
I am not surprised that a bottom feeder like Blogojevich would degrade this process, but it is the participation of academics like Herman and Hurd that is a shocking addition to this scandal.
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