Abuses in admissions process advance cycle of corruption

The University of Illinois is known as the state’s flagship institution of higher education, but the exposure of an underhanded admissions process makes us wonder what we’re heralding.

Last week’s revelation that hundreds of unqualified applicants were admitted to the University with the help of administrators, trustees and lawmakers is a slap in the face for the very hard-working students that attend this institution.

Since 2005, 800 applicants were placed on a “Category I list” that had a higher than average admissions rate, despite having lower than average credentials as a group, according to a report released by the Chicago Tribune on Friday.

Applicants landed on the list after the intervention of state legislators or trustees to “check on” their applications. Corruption is an acknowledged force in Illinois state government, but that should not lessen the impact of this situation. The admissions scandal isn’t appalling because it’s unprecedented, it’s appalling because everyone involved knows what they’re doing is antithetical to the values of higher education they’re constantly espousing. And they do it anyway.

By allowing the recommendations of powerful people to influence the admissions process, legislators and University officials are advancing the cycle of corruption.

One lawmaker who has forwarded requests for review of constituents applications said in response to the Tribune report, “I think it helps to let them know we’re watching.” As a public institution, the University has a responsibility to taxpayers and students across the state to conduct its admissions process in a way that is unpolluted by politics and patronage. “Watching” the admissions process shouldn’t mean intervening on behalf of well-connected applicants, but ensuring the fairness of the system for all students.

Today’s University students are the elected leaders of the future, and if we allow corruption in admissions processes to become accepted, this generation of students will become accustomed to tolerating the patronage that has haunted the state for decades. If Illinois’ leaders hope to change “business as usual,” they have to stop instilling their way of doing things in the state’s most impressionable citizens.

There will always be those outside academia that will seek to act as benefactors for undeserving students, but those charged with upholding the standards of the University should try living up to them, all the way from the president to the admissions officers. Those that haven’t should be, for lack of a better term, expelled.

Slowly but surely, the legislature is starting to take action against the culture of corruption that permeates state government. A bill currently before the state Senate would purge appointees of former Governors Ryan and Blagojevich, including all university trustees. Under the bill, the terms of the appointees would expire immediately, with Gov. Quinn having the option to reappoint them within ninety days after leading an investigation into their conduct.

While necessary, would a full fumigation of the University trustees and administration fully solve the problem? No, nor would it be much comfort to the unknown number of students who were denied in favor of a “Category I.”

It’s apparent that this behavior continues because real consequences are few and far between. Until the admissions process is fully transparent and those involved are held accountable for their decisions, we find little reason to have faith in their administrators and elected officials.