University must release ‘clout’ records

On Tuesday, the Chicago Tribune filed a suit against the University under the Freedom of Information Act, demanding previously withheld information from e-mails containing the grade point averages and test scores of students on the “Category I” list.

Although, the University has already released 1,800 pages of admissions-related documents after FOIA requests were submitted by the Tribune, they claim that releasing further information would violate student privacy.

In order to reform the admissions process, the full extent of the current problem must be known. The Tribune’s lawsuit is a necessary step in order for policy makers to grasp the extent to which clout influenced the admissions process.

Knowing scores and GPAs of the admitted students on the Category I list is important because it gives us an understanding of how qualified, or unqualified, these students are.

A section of the Freedom of Information Act quoted in the Tribune’s suit characterizes access to public records as being necessary for citizens to “monitor government to ensure that it is being conducted in the public interest.”

In order for the right reforms to be put into place, we need to know exactly what went wrong with the admissions process.

In response to the suit, the University’s office of public relations released this statement: “The university provided thousands of pages of documents containing hundreds of non-redacted names and other information, and it applied federal and state exemptions on disclosure that are intended to protect the privacy of young adults served by the university.” But making e-mails that contain grades and test scores available to the public does not violate applicants’ privacy.

The University has not released the names of the students on the “Category I”, and no one is asking them to. It would be impossible to connect a set of grades and test scores to any particular student. However, if the records indicate that the University admitted extremely unqualified students from the clout list, it would reflect very poorly on the admissions process. This seems to be the University’s motivation for not releasing the records.

The University’s refusal goes against President White’s avowed desire to make the process as transparent as possible.

“I am a strong proponent of an open and transparent government and I am fully supportive of the [ Illinois Freedom of Information] Act’s intended purpose,” White prefaced a letter to the Tribune denying their most recent requests.

The information being sought by the Tribune is the only quantitative way we have of assessing the strength of the applicants on the clout list. By refusing to release grades and test scores of the applicants, the University is denying the citizens of the state the right to assess the performance of their institutions.

Governor Pat Quinn said last week in response to the ongoing scandal, “I think it is important to have the truth, whatever it is, however inconvenient, however embarrassing.” He added, “It is much better to get it all out and figure out what went wrong and make sure we never do it again.”

We agree. The University claims to be protecting the applicants’ privacy rights, but its refusal to release the records comes at the cost of justice and the civic rights of the Illinois people. The sooner the scope of the admissions scandal can be understood, the sooner we can put an end to this shameful chapter in the University’s history.