Admissions scandal leads to future reform

The University’s Admissions policies have become the subject of controversy following newspaper reports revealing “Category I,” a list of politically connected University applicants marked for special consideration.

On Aug. 12, President B. Joseph White convened a meeting comprising more than 100 top University of Illinois administrators, faculty and staff to begin reforms in response to a report from the state of Illinois Admissions Review Commission.

In June, Gov. Pat Quinn appointed a review commission to investigate the University’s admissions policies. Soon after, Chancellor Richard Herman and former law school dean Heidi Hurd admitted to pushing and accepting well-connected applicants, some of whom were unqualified for admission by the University’s standards.

As Judge Abner Mikva decided to focus his investigations on the Board of Trustees as opposed to Illinois legislators, many began to call for the resignation of the entire board. The University released a series of documents, including e-mails that directly implicated President White and the Board of Trustees in pushing certain candidates.

“The buck stops with the Board of Trustees,” said state Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, who proposed legislation that would terminate the Board. “Public confidence needs to be restored immediately. The way to do that is for the governor to dismiss the members of the Board of Trustees.”

Paul Schmitt, former student trustee, described a cultural problem on the Board.

“They operate in and come from a culture of doing the easy way that will get them the least amount of criticism and input from the people who have a vested interest in it,” he said.

Six of the trustees have resigned so far: Lawrence Eppley, Niranjan Shah, Edward McMillan, Devon Bruce, David Dorris and Dr. Kenneth Schmidt. President White said he has no idea if other trustees will follow suit.

As for future plans regarding admissions, President White said the next eight weeks would be devoted to implementing admissions reforms. The University has terminated the “Category I” tracking system and blocked the Office of Governmental Relations from having any role in the admissions process.

White said the meeting of University leaders primarily discussed ways to “firewall” the admissions process, shielding it from outside influence.

“We will leave admissions to the admissions professionals,” White said.

According to a press release from the University, this firewall is the primary focus of the admissions reforms.

The University auditor will conduct an audit toward the end of September to ensure that all reforms will be followed through.

White said that any further terminations of University officials will be up to the Board of Trustees, and refused to comment on his future interactions with Chancellor Herman or the future of his own job.

White said his meeting had focused primarily on how to quickly implement reforms for the coming school year.

“I don’t see obstacles ahead,” he said. “What I see as the biggest challenge is urgency.”