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Law school billed U. of I. for $300K in 'scholarship support'
By Stacy St. Clair and Jodi S. Cohen
Chicago Tribune staff reporters
July 8, 2009
The University of Illinois law school received more than $300,000 in scholarship
money from the chancellor during a four-year period in exchange for accepting
underqualified, but politically connected, students, newly released documents
Law School officials demanded the money as a payment for admitting applicants whose weak academic credentials threatened to lower the class profile, according to the records. Officials then used the money to entice better-qualified applicants to attend the school, and thereby help raise the school's median GPA and test scores, a critical component of the U.S. News & World Report ranking system.
"(Chancellor Richard Herman) would reach into his discretionary funds and aid that effort," former Law Dean Heidi Hurd said today during a hearing before a state commission investigating admissions abuses at the Urbana-Champaign campus.
Other university administrators also defended the practice earlier this week, saying they had to protect the law school from the negative impact of the patronage. "My understanding was that it was an attempt to mitigate the damage," law school admissions Dean Paul Pless testified Monday.
Commission Chairman Abner Mikva, however, took exception to the practice and suggested the policy took money from more deserving U. of I. students.
Documents released by the commission late Tuesday show the law school billed the university for about $304,000 in "scholarship support" between 2004 and 2007. Figures for 2008 and 2009 were not immediately available.
The dollar amount increased dramatically from the practice's inception, starting with $25,815 for three students in 2004 and jumping to more than $100,000 in scholarships for seven students in 2007.
Twenty-four subpar applicants--about 3 to 4 percent of the law school's student body--were admitted because of their political connections during a recent four-year period, officials say.
The law school's demands for scholarship money reflects both its anger toward admitting underqualified applicants and its determination to be rewarded for swallowing the occasional bitter pill.
Hurd, who testified before the state commission today, outlined the deal in a January 2004 e-mail to two staff members. In it, she described how she planned to negotiate down the number of "special admit applicants" with Herman, then the provost, and receive compensation for those she agreed to admit.
"As I mentioned, I fully intend to ask him to 'buy' his special admits!" she wrote.