Ask any applicant to U of I in the past five years, and they'll confirm it is getting tougher to gain admission to the state's most prestigious public university. U of I has been rated the 10th best in the U.S.
Current and former students speaking with ABC7 say the so-called secret clout list is frustrating, but some say not so shocking.
"I feel a little bit cheated. I know I've worked hard for quite some time to get where I've been, so, you know, I just want everyone to be on a level playing field," said Dave Miller.
"That happens all the time anywhere," said Amanda So. "It doesn't matter if it's college or getting a job. I mean, that just comes with the territory, I guess. I mean, I went there for undergrad, and I think I got into in for the right reasons, but who knows? I mean, everybody knows someone, and if you get in because of that, I mean, I don't think there is a way to filter that out."
The Tribune investigation has uncovered a clout list, which U of I calls "Category I," listing applicants who have connections to legislators, donors, rustees. According to the Tribune, about 800 undergraduate students have landed on the list. And they have been accepted at a rate of 77 percent, compared to 69 percent of all applicants.
Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich allegedly gave letters of recommendation on behalf of two students, one of them a relative of convicted peddler Tony Rezko. According to the Tribune, university President Joseph White sent an email citing the governor's support. The email was received by an admissions officer who noted the applicant's ACT score was pretty low. The applicant was accepted.
Friday afternoon, President White issued the following statement, after denying that any unqualified student had ever been admitted to the University of Illinois because of clout:
"To the extent we have had instances of admissions officers or others experiencing and succumbing to inappropriate pressure for admission of less qualified over more qualified candidates, this is a problem that we can and will correct," the statement read.
On the U of I Circle Campus in Chicago, students reacted to the report Friday with frustration, although they were not necessarily shocked.
"If it's connections, that's not what the university is about. It's about finding scholars and succeeding in life. That's not right,'" said student Tanika Thomas.
The university also pointed out it keeps such a list, as do other universities, because they have to track the applicants who are the subject of inquiries and pressure exerted by people with clout.
The following PDFs contain about 1,800 pages of documents the University of Illinois turned over to the Chicago Tribune regarding the admission process at the university's Urbana-Champaign campus.
The documents includes lists of elected officials, school trustees and others who inquired about applications submitted by constituents or others; e-mail communication between university staff and administrators regarding some of those inquiries; and information about the status of many applicants.
All documents are from the years 2005 through 2009. Files and file names are as they were received from the University of Illinois.