Chancellor testifies about clout at U of I

July 6, 2009 (CHICAGO) Chancellor Richard Herman testified Monday before a state panel that is investigating the claims.

The university's chancellor says, in some cases, he felt pressured to intercede. On the other hand, he said Monday that for the university to act on questions or requests that trustees or politicians or alumni have on behalf of potential students is necessary, because it shows the university is responsive.

But what was a program for tracking sponsor requests for potential students -- called Category I students -- became a formalized means of admitting, at least some students, who weren't academically qualified. Now Category I is done.

"It is now apparent to me that the Category I system was implemented in a way that was not equitable and transparent. I deeply regret that and firmly believe the system for handling external inquiries must be reformed," said Herman.

Richard Herman has been the chancellor at the University of Illinois' main campus since 2005, and he acknowledges that he gave a green light to admitting some students that the admissions staff had earlier rejected. Among them, at least two students who former Governor Rod Blagojevich wanted admitted, even though their academic credentials were below acceptance standards.

The then-chairman of the university's board went to Herman.

"I said in particular that I don't feel very good about doing this," Herman said. When asked how the then-chairman's responded, Herman said, " ' We need to get this done.' "

The students were admitted. The larger issue that this commission is examining asks the fundamental question, How many students who were qualified to enter the U of I were passed over for those with were not qualified? And what do you tell your neighbor whose child has stellar scores and grades, but gets bumped by a kid with clout? The university says that doesn't happen often, maybe 12-to-15 times a year.

Admissions favoritism is not a new phenomenon, but the commission appointed to look into Category I says it has found no similar program at other major public universities. What replaces it is not yet clear, though Herman Monday said he would advocate that all requests made on behalf of potential students be made in writing, and that they stay within the province of the admissions staff.

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