Ex-Dean Calls Herself 'Victim' of Admissions Scandal
After testimony on University of Illinois abuses,
Heidi Hurd left message praising chancellor she had criticized
By Stacy St. Clair
Chicago Tribune reporter
August 6, 2009
A former University of Illinois law school dean has made a final effort to
distance herself from an admissions scandal, writing a lengthy letter to the
state panel charged with investigating the practices.
Heidi Hurd -- who testified before the Illinois Admission Review Commission
nearly a month ago -- sent a 15-page letter late last week in which she
describes herself as a "victim" of the school's clout lists, not a
"perpetrator," and details her efforts to push back against them.
She also supports her earlier assertions that Chancellor Richard Herman and
public officials abused their power when they forced her to admit subpar
Commissioners will weigh the letter against a voice mail message Hurd left on
Herman's home phone shortly after she testified. University attorneys turned
over the message to the commission, officials said.
According to a transcript, Hurd refers to Herman as a "knight in shining
armor" and says she remains his "most ardent admirer."
"I just know someday ... when we are kicking around in heaven, we will be
able to drink and laugh about this the whole time," she says. "But
to the extent that I have played a role in a scenario that should not have
unfolded for you, I am beyond, beyond belief sorry."
Hurd's attorney issued a statement Wednesday saying Hurd greatly appreciated
Herman's role in helping her make the law school one of the top 15 in the
nation, though they disagreed about acquiescing to "undue pressure from
selfish, meddling politicos."
"The humanity she displayed in a private moment should be respected and
applauded, not criticized," the statement said.
In an e-mail to the Tribune, Herman said he turned over the message in keeping
with his pledge to cooperate fully with the investigation.
The commission focused, in part, on the law school as it sought to unravel the
extent that rich and powerful people swayed admissions decisions, as evidenced
by thousands of documents obtained by the Chicago Tribune.
In recent years, 3 to 4 percent of first-year students at the law school would
not have gained entry without the sway of a powerful patron, an admissions
dean told the panel.
In e-mails obtained by the newspaper, Hurd discussed with colleagues her
efforts to minimize "special admits" -- and to extract compensation
for them. The law school secured more than $300,000 in scholarships from
Herman during a recent four-year period to lure top students to offset the
weaker records of clouted ones.
Hurd likened the practice to a mugging victim turning over her wallet but beg-
ging the attacker to let her keep the photos of her children.
Hurd, now a U. of I. professor, wrote that no one "should come to mistake
the story's perpetrators with its victims, those who use implicit coercion
with those who regularly feel themselves under its duress."
Hurd questioned Herman's involvement in admissions, particularly related to an
e-mail exchange in which he asked trustee Lawrence Eppley to provide five jobs
for law graduates in exchange for admitting the relative of a donor to ex-Gov.
"I was angry about the admissions decision, and I was all the more
infuriated by the suggestion that I might be mollified by a promise that could
not be anything other than a false one," Hurd wrote.
She wrote that when she was hired in 2002, Herman's staff introduced her to
"a seemingly well-oiled, self-described 'system' for dealing with
'special interest applicants' or 'special admits.' "
The letter largely echoed her testimony from July 8. That night, she called
Herman to apologize for her failure to express her gratitude for "years
of mentorship and guidance and support."