Clout And The Fight For A Real Public University

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Richard Herman and President B.
Joseph White to resign over the ongoing
admissions scandal reached new heights
on September 14 as the Urbana-Champaign
Senate, primarily a faculty body,
passed a resolution by the overwhelming
margin of 98–55 calling for “the need to a
timely transition” in both the positions of
Chancellor and President of the university.
Earlier in the month, Governor Pat Quinn
had replaced all but three members of the
Board of Trustees. All but two members
had resigned, while another was reappointed
after offering his resignation.
Last spring, the University of Illinois
became a symbol for the worst of our state’s
corruption when the Chicago Tribune
revealed that top university officials and
trustees had intervened in the admissions
process on behalf of students from families
with connections to high-ranking political
and university officials. The practice was so
widespread that the university created a separate
pool of applicants, dubbed “Category
I,” for prospective students with clout. Some
students in this pool of applicants were even
admitted after they already had been rejected
through the normal admissions process.
The scandal reaches into the upper echelons
of the university administration.
Heidi Hurd, former dean of the Law
School, Lawrence DeBrock, Dean of the
College of Business, President B. Joseph
White, Chancellor Richard Herman, Associate
Provost Keith Marshall and a number
of university trustees all intervened on
behalf of under-qualified, politically connected
Their intervention was often far from
subtle. In one instance, a college dean
wrote to the Admissions Director urging
him to admit a particular student. “Given
his father’s donor status, I may be asking
you to admit him. We are about to launch a
huge campaign, and we can’t be alienating
big donors by rejecting their kids.
In what amounted to an affirmative
action program for the rich and powerful,
Category I students overwhelmingly came
from elite, affluent high schools. According
to the Chicago Tribune, half of the 616 Illinois
students who received preferential
treatment from 2005 to 2009 graduated
from just 22 high schools. Meanwhile, at
least 668 Illinois high schools had no
clouted applicants at all.
Among the least connected were students
from Chicago Public Schools (CPS),
who are disproportionately African-American,
Latino and poor. CPS, the state’s
largest school district, has about 19,000
graduating seniors each year. Yet only 25
were placed on the clout list over five
years. In comparison, Highland Park High
School, located in one of Illinois’ wealthiest
northern Chicago suburbs, and which
graduates roughly 425 per year, merited 30
clouted admissions.
While university officials are bending
over backwards to make sure that the sons
and daughters of privilege have easy access
to our university, most of us haven’t been
so lucky. While the university brags that
they “only” raised tuition by 2.6 percent
for incoming freshmen in the ‘08-’09 term,
this increase comes after a decade of skyrocketing
tuition costs, putting a four-year
degree out of reach for many working families.
In 2008–2009, the base tuition rate
for incoming freshmen was $9,242 per
year, a 43 percent increase from the
2004–2005 academic year, when tuition
stood at $6,460.
Meanwhile, during a recession in which
more working families are struggling to
pay for a college education, the University
of Illinois denied a record 130,000 financial
aid applications for the 2008–2009
Term. And because of budget cuts, the Illinois
Student Assistance Commission
(ISAC) is telling recipients of the Monetary
Assistance Program (MAP), the largest
financial aid program in the state, which
serves 145,000 low-income students, to
expect just half of their funding in Fall
2008 and none of it in Spring 2009.
Furthermore, while affirmative action
is alive and well for the elite, African-
Americans and Latinos remain underrepresented
in the student body, comprising
just 12 percent of the campus in a state
where African-Americans and Latinos
represent more than 29 percent of the
overall population.
If administrators and legislators who
appropriate state budgets refuse to treat
the University of Illinois as the public
institution it purports to be, not all students
are accepting this state of affairs.
Members of the GEO are fighting for a
fair contract. On September 9, 2009, in
one of the biggest rallies in Champaign-
Urbana for quite some time, 250 students
rallied for a fair contract outside the Levis
Faculty Center.

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