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chicagotribune.com

U. of I.'s cynical breach of public trust

Tribune staff report

June 28, 2009

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TRIBUNE EDITORIAL

Evidence that University of Illinois officials sought to exchange admission of an inferior law school applicant in return for jobs for five U. of I. law grads has dropped the specter of public corruption into an increasingly infuriating scandal.

That evidence, detailed in Friday's Tribune, included university e-mail messages about a relative of deep-pocketed Rod Blagojevich donor Kerry Peck: When law school Dean Heidi Hurd resisted accepting the clouted applicant, U. of I. Chancellor Richard Herman replied that the request came "Straight from the G," apparently Blagojevich. Herman subsequently asked U. of I. trustee Lawrence Eppley to help secure "5 government and or law profession jobs for graduates of our Law School," apparently in exchange for the admission.

Friday's story also included this maddening passage: "The e-mails paint a picture of how law school officials operated a parallel admissions review for clouted students. They withheld denials until the year's end, cleared decisions with top university administrators, and debated whether to accept candidates with stronger credentials -- or stronger connections. Several clouted students received full-ride scholarships."

One more time: Several clouted students received full-ride scholarships.

We don't know how many U. of I. and government officials participated in -- or, by their silence, tolerated -- corrupt admissions. We trust that federal prosecutors and the gubernatorial commission chaired by retired Judge Abner Mikva will uncover each betrayal of the public trust, and identify the schemers and witnesses.

Illinois citizens must turn to the feds and Mikva because, with the most recent revelations, U. of I. trustees and administrators have lost whatever last shred of credibility they had. We hope the independent investigators also demand to know why this most recent batch of devastating e-mail didn't surface -- despite the Tribune's request under Illinois' notoriously weak Freedom of Information Act -- until the feds began raining subpoenas on state universities.

Think this through: How deeply did the influence of money and politics corrupt U. of I. admissions? Deep enough that the U. of I. apparently would foist its cynical game on the rest of Illinois by attempting a barter: If we have to take these weak applicants, you have to put some of our grads into public or private law jobs. Thanks, U. of I.

University and government officials who swam in this sewer deserve no faith whatsoever from the people of Illinois. They can undo neither their own bad acts nor the terrible damage they inflicted on better qualified -- but rejected -- U. of I. applicants.