University of Illinois Chancellor Richard Herman forced the law school to admit an unqualified applicant backed by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich while arranging for the governor's go-between to seek jobs for five law school graduates, according to new documents released Thursday by the university.
The records suggest for the first time an explicit trading of favors, the most troubling evidence yet of how Illinois' entrenched system of patronage crept into the admissions process of the state's most prestigious public university.
The relative of deep-pocketed Blagojevich campaign donor Kerry Peck appears to have been pushed by trustee Lawrence Eppley, who routinely carried admissions requests from the governor.
When law school dean Heidi Hurd balked on accepting the applicant in April 2006, Herman replied that the request came "Straight from the G. My apologies. Larry has promised to work on jobs (5). What counts?"
Hurd replied: "Only very high-paying jobs in law firms that are absolutely indifferent to whether the five have passed their law school classes or the Bar."
Later that day, Herman sent an e-mail to Eppley asking for "assistance in obtaining 5 government and or law profession jobs for graduates of our Law School."
It wasn't immediately clear if the jobs were ever provided.
On Thursday, Herman declined to discuss the exchange.
"In the future, I expect to be talking to the Mikva commission and I believe I owe them my first public statement on these matters,'' he said.
Gov. Pat Quinn created a special commission led by retired federal judge Abner Mikva to look into the university's admissions practices after the Chicago Tribune published a series of stories revealing that more than 800 undergraduate applicants--as well as an undetermined number of those applying to graduate and professional schools--received special consideration because they were backed by university trustees, legislators and others in powerful positions.
Then last week, the federal government subpoenaed three state universities, including the U. of I., seeking communications from Blagojevich and his associates concerning student admissions.
On Thursday, Rep. Mike Boland (D-East Moline) renewed his call for Herman, Eppley and any high-ranking officials involved in the clout lists to resign.
"It's one thing to cave to pressure," he said. "It's another thing to be exchanging gifts like this. Holy Toledo. It's worse than I ever imagined."
Boland says he is troubled that at least a half-dozen people were copied on e-mails regarding the law school deal, but none of the documents released show anybody objecting to it.
"Did anyone disapprove or raise their objections to something so appalling?" he asked. "Was there anybody looking out for the university?"
Some 125 pages of e-mails released late Thursday afternoon were not included in the more than 1,800 pages released to the Chicago Tribune last month as part of a Freedom of Information Act request submitted in April.
Officials have not yet explained why the latest documents were not turned over to the Tribune originally.
University trustees held a three-hour, emergency meeting to discuss the e-mails Thursday before releasing them.
Eppley said little after the meeting, held at the U. of I.'s Chicago campus.
"I can say it was a great meeting," he said. "I'm missing work. That's a huge problem."
Trustee David Dorris expressed his concerns about what he read in the e-mails.
"Political pressure, power, money shall not be the basis for admission to a public university," Dorris said.
He said exceptions can be made for some applicants with subpar academic records, such as athletes, but "the fact that Rod Blagojevich puts pressure on is not an extenuating circumstance."