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Final Report

Final Report

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Published by: chicagotribune on Aug 07, 2009
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06/18/2010

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STATE OF ILLINOIS ADMISSIONS REVIEW COMMISSIONREPORT OF FINDINGS & RECOMMENDATIONSI. EXECUTIVE SUMMARYA. Introduction: The Influence of Power & Money on University of Illinois Admissions
For years, a shadow admissions process existed at the University of Illinois(“University”). Unknown to the public and even to most University employees, thisshadow process – referred to as “Category I” – catered to applicants who were supportedby public officials, University Trustees, donors, and other prominent individuals(collectively “sponsors”). While applicants who lacked such clout sought admissionthrough the University’s official admissions process, Category I applicants were givenseparate and often preferential treatment by University leadership. And while the officialprocess took into account the applicant’s characteristics (e.g., academic achievement,special talents, personal circumstances), the Category I process tended to focus on the“power and money” of the applicant’s sponsor.In scores of instances, the influence of prominent individuals – and theUniversity’s refusal or inability to resist that influence – operated to override thedecisions of admissions professionals and resulted in the enrollment of students who didnot meet the University’s admissions standards – some by a considerable margin. In thisway, sponsorship by prominent individuals at times became a heavy thumb on the scale,giving advantage to clouted applicants, who were typically from affluent backgrounds,and unfairly disadvantaging those in the general applicant pool.Certain Category I admissions resulted, at least in part, from pressure applied bysponsors that high-ranking University officials, in turn, channeled to subordinatesinvolved in making admissions decisions. In so doing, these officials routinely didnothing to block or diffuse the pressure (or, worse, amplified it), and thereby signaledtheir own endorsement of the applicants. Moreover, in some instances, Universityleaders explicitly advocated for the admission of applicants to whom they were closelyconnected. And even when there was no obvious pressure either from an external sourceor a University official to admit a particular applicant, time and time again Universityadmissions officers very reasonably perceived an implicit message – that the applicantshould be admitted – simply by virtue of the power and authority of the messenger(s).Over time, a process that may have begun as a seemingly innocuous way to“track” inquiries from prominent individuals evolved (or devolved) into a “well-oiled”machine that was perhaps unparalleled among universities in its level of formality andstructure. Within this University, the institutionalization of Category I bred resentmenton the part of some Deans and lower level administrators, and provoked some to “pushback” at times, but to little avail. Most notably, the College of Law, faced with directivesfrom the University’s central administration to admit substandard applicants, eventuallysought to oppose these directives, but then relented and responded with demands of its

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