University must cut clout culture off at its source

On Tuesday, UI trustees Lawrence Eppley, Kenneth Schmidt, and David Dorris testified before the commission charged with investigating the admissions scandal. Commission members addressed Eppley’s role as an intermediary between the Board and the office of former Governor Rod Blagojevich. Eppley claimed that his interventions were merely “referrals” with no influence over the admissions process. Whether or not it was Eppley’s intention to favor candidates he referred, he should know that the very act of his referral was an unethical interference in the admissions process.

“I don’t think I pushed anything, I was merely referring a candidate,” Eppley said before the commission. But it is would be absurd to claim that referrals had no influence over the admissions process. Whether Eppley or others advanced this point of view or not, admissions officers would reasonably feel pressure to admit candidates that had been referred to them by trustees and legislators, who after all, are indirectly their bosses. Legislators and trustees should know this and refrain from making referrals.

Even if “recommendations” only led to reconsideration of well qualified candidates, interference of outsiders in the admissions process is unfair. Most students don’t have connections that would give them access to trustee and legislators. When prominent people from outside are allowed to influence the admissions process, admissions decisions are skewed towards students from privileged backgrounds and well-connected families.

Eppley commented, “I said I knew the applicant’s family, but it wasn’t my business to say yay or nay.” The second part of his statement is absolutely right. Admissions officers alone have the right to evaluate candidates. Since putting a candidate’s name forward could never hurt them, and in many cases would help, Eppley and others who recommended candidates were nonetheless influencing the admissions process. While reforms in the process may be necessary as well in order to address corruption in admissions, outsiders must be banned from making referrals. To change the culture of clout, we need to cut it off at the source.