Friday, March 19, 2010
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U of I releases e-mails about clout admissions

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[March 19, 2010]  CHICAGO -- E-mails released Thursday by the University of Illinois offer a glimpse into how admissions decisions were made for politically connected, and sometimes underqualified, applicants.

DonutsUniversity of Illinois admissions practices have faced scrutiny from Gov. Pat Quinn and others after the Chicago Tribune reported last month that officials kept at least 800 applicants for admission, typically those recommended by politicians, on a separate "Category I" list.

"This was strictly a matter of identifying some e-mails that hadn't been brought forward previously," University of Illinois spokesman Thomas Hardy said of the documents' release. The university turned them over to the governor's commission investigating the matter.

The list and ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich's role in pushing for connected students' admission also has attracted attention from U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who already is prosecuting the Democrat for political corruption.


The e-mails, which date back to July 2004, show frequent correspondence between officials including then-College of Law Dean Heidi Hurd, Chancellor Richard Herman and Paul Pless, the law school's dean for admissions and financial aid. Hurd is now a professor at the university.

In one May 2006 exchange, Hurd asks Herman, "Have we done all you want/need to do on this at our end? Any more phone calls to make influential people just to make sure they feel the love? Or can we go ahead with the normal admissions process?"

Herman answers that he's trying to check with trustee Naranjin Shah about one candidate Shah is interested in.

Messages were left Thursday evening at the chancellor's and trustees' offices for Herman and Shah. Calls to Hurd's office and a telephone listing in Champaign rang unanswered. Shah's home number was unlisted.

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University trustees held an hourslong, closed-door meeting Thursday to discuss the messages. Trustee David Dorris said the e-mails were brought to the board's attention Wednesday night.

Dorris said he is "very disturbed" by the messages, particularly those involving one underqualified, well-connected student who was admitted to the College of Law in 2006, the same year his son was wait-listed. Dorris didn't name the student.

Fitzgerald has subpoenaed any communication Blagojevich and four former associates had regarding student applications at the University of Illinois, Southern Illinois University and Northern Illinois University.

A relative of convicted political fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko reportedly was admitted to Illinois, angering lawmakers. Some politicians have called for resignations of anyone involved.

President Joseph White has since suspended the Category I list but has called it a common tool used on the flagship-university's campus in Urbana-Champaign to track a small number of inquiries from politicians and others.

"Going forward, I want to make 100 percent sure that our people know that they are not to succumb to pressure to do those things," White said last month.

[Associated Press]

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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