ChessLaw | LawDictionary.com | FreeLegalResearch.com
FreeMPRE.com | FreeBarReview.com | BuyingPower.com | LawTV 
Manhattan Law School | Law Firm 250 | EnPassant.com | TVToday.com
Law School 100 | Law Central | BarPlus Bar Review | ExpertWitnesses.com

Google
 







Clout at U. of I. law school, documents show


WGN

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."

--Jodi Cohen

CLOUT GOES TO COLLEGE

U. of I. jobs-for-entry scheme

E-mails reveal law school put a price
on admission of unqualified candidate

By Jodi S. Cohen, Tara Malone and Robert Becker

Tribune reporters

June 26, 2009

What does it cost to get an unqualified student into the University of Illinois law school?

Five jobs for graduating law students, suggest internal e-mails released Thursday.

The documents show for the first time efforts to seek favors -- in this case, jobs -- for admissions, the most troubling evidence yet of how Illinois' entrenched system of patronage crept into the state's most prestigious public university.

They also detail the law school's system for handling "Special Admits," students backed by the politically connected, expanding the scope of a scandal prompted by a Chicago Tribune investigation.

In one e-mail exchange, University of Illinois Chancellor Richard Herman forced the law school to admit an unqualified applicant backed by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich while seeking a promise from the governor's go-between that five law school graduates would get jobs. The applicant, a relative of deep-pocketed Blagojevich campaign donor Kerry Peck, appears to have been pushed by Trustee Lawrence Eppley, who often carried the governor's admissions requests.

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."

Hurd's e-mail suggests that students getting the jobs are to be those in the "bottom of the class." Law school rankings depend in part on the job placement rate of graduates.

It wasn't immediately clear if the private sector or government jobs were provided.

Gov. Pat Quinn convened a state commission to investigate the U. of I. admissions process after the Tribune revealed that more than 800 undergraduate applicants in the last five years received special consideration because they were backed by U. of I. trustees, legislators and others in powerful posts.

Commission chairman Abner Mikva, a retired judge, said he intends to call everyone implicated in this e-mail exchange to testify before the panel. He said he learned of the e-mails late Wednesday from President B. Joseph White.

"It just gets thicker and thicker and it's not good," Mikva said of the scandal.

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.

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.

In private, law school officials showed their disdain for the special admits and even worked behind the scenes to campaign against them. At one point in March 2007, Hurd asked staffers to collect data about how the clouted students performed at law school to provide a weapon against their admittance.

Admissions dean Paul Pless reported that the school admitted at least 24 "SI," or special interest, students during a four-year span. He said they had lower grades and standardized test scores than the general applicant pool and they lagged behind their classmates once admitted. On average, they maintained a 2.86 grade point average during their first year compared with the 3.2 grade point average for the overall class, he said. One faced "formal disciplinary charges" and left the school.

But their dislike of the program didn't stop administrators from accepting the students.

"I'll do my best to keep the number of Provostian admits to a minimum, and extract payment for them," Hurd wrote to her admissions staff in 2003.

On Thursday in Chicago, university trustees met in emergency closed session for more than three hours before releasing the documents.

After the meeting, Trustee David Dorris expressed his concerns about what he read.

"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."

Last week, the federal government subpoenaed three state universities, including the U. of I., seeking communications from Blagojevich and his associates concerning student admissions. University officials were ordered to respond by July 2.

Eppley said little after the meeting at U. of I.'s city campus. "I can say it was a great meeting," he said.

Also facing questions about the new e-mails was the university's board chairman, Niranjan Shah, whose relative was discussed in an e-mail exchange released Thursday. The relative was admitted to the law school in 2006.

As Herman and Hurd exchanged e-mails about the relative's acceptance, Hurd wrote: "Any more phone calls to make to influential people just to make sure they feel the love?"

Shah told the Tribune he did not deliberately sway the decision in his relative's favor.

"I never requested special treatment for anybody," Shah said.

The Oak Brook businessman -- who sponsored at least nine students in three years, records show -- rebuked any bartering that may have played a role in admissions. "I do not condone this kind of exchange, asking for jobs and this and that," Shah said. "I don't know if they were just playing or if they were serious."

The documents released Thursday should have been provided to the Tribune last month in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. Asked why they weren't, university spokesman Tom Hardy said: "I don't know the answer ... and it is an issue that we are going to need to address."

Trustee Dorris said he is disturbed by the university's failure to produce the documents earlier.

"I have asked the same question," Dorris said. "You will have to draw your own conclusion and it's probably the same as mine."

Tribune reporter Stacy St. Clair contributed to this report.