7.8.09

CHICAGO, CHICAGO. A special panel investigates the candy store in Urbana.

To start, the Illinois Admissions Review Commission urged the university's trustees to resign and had harsh words for the top administrators -- President B. Joseph White and Chancellor Richard Herman -- for acting unethically by enabling an admissions process that allowed subpar students sponsored by powerful people to get into the state's most prestigious public campus.

"The University now finds itself in a full-fledged crisis purely of its own making," the report states. "Public confidence in the University and its leadership has eroded, and the University must set out in earnest to regain the public's trust and repair the damage done to its reputation."

One can generalize the report either to consider the deleterious effect generally of preferential admissions, or to contemplate the pervasiveness of influence trading in Illinois.

Preferences first.

The findings come in the wake of a Chicago Tribune investigation that found more than 800 undergraduate applicants received preferential treatment over the last five years because of their connections to elected officials, generous donors or university trustees. Dozens more benefited from special consideration at the law school and other programs. While it is unknown how many patronage applicants would have gotten in on their own, their acceptance rate is higher than for the entire applicant pool even though they had lower average ACT scores and class ranks, records show.

"The admission of substandard applicants resulted in other, more qualified applicants being denied admission," according to the findings, reached after reviewing about 9,000 pages of documents and hearing more than 40 hours of testimony from dozens of people.

The panel refuted the contention that U. of I. acted no differently than every other selective university, a point argued by White after the Tribune revealed the preferential treatment.

"Over time, a process that may have begun as a seemingly innocuous way to 'track' inquiries from prominent individuals evolved (or devolved) into a 'well-oiled' machine that was perhaps unparalleled among universities in its level of formality and structure," it wrote.

"The admission of substandard applicants resulted in other, more qualified applicants being denied admission." The generalization to legacy admissions and to affirmative action as practiced is straightforward.

The same print edition of the Chicago Tribune that carried this story also carried a story about clout admissions at Chicago's best public high schools.

Federal investigators are trying to determine whether public officials clouted students into Chicago's highly competitive selective enrollment high schools, according to a subpoena the Tribune obtained Thursday.

The July 21 federal grand jury subpoena seeks documents related to how applicants were admitted to the city's nine elite public high schools through a process that allows principals to handpick 5 percent of students.

Prosecutors want city school leaders to turn over correspondence related to the principal selection process, including who applied, who was accepted, what public officials weighed in, as well as test scores, evaluations and recommendations.

Federal investigators also are seeking all policies and guidelines that principals are supposed to use to pick students and an "organizational chart for the central office of the Chicago Board of Education."

The investigation has just begun. Our President will not be named in this investigation as a parent: his children attended the University of Chicago's Laboratory School in Hyde Park, where the black and the white stand shoulder to shoulder against the poor. His role as community organizer is yet to be determined.

Favors for favors, however, are just another day at the office in the Chicago Public Schools.

Earlier this year, [developer Michael] Scott's roles as school board president and as a member of the city's Olympic committee stirred controversy.

In May, he asked all of the city's school principals to form plans to promote the Olympics. Teachers and union officials said Scott's tactics were heavy-handed and they feared retaliation if they did not support [Chicago nmayor Richard] Daley's quest for the Games.

Daley first floated his vision of bringing the Olympics to Chicago in 2005 after previously dismissing the idea as too costly. He assembled an exploratory committee in mid-2006 that included Scott.

Mr Scott then went on to make some strategic land purchases.

Developer Michael Scott Sr., an early member of the mayor's Olympic committee, leads a group planning a residential and commercial project on lots kitty-corner from the proposed Douglas Park sporting venues, a location where land values could jump if the city gets the Olympics.

The plan -- which would include a Nike store -- already has gotten crucial support from the local alderman, who has set aside the lots for Scott and his group.

The city generally sells taxpayer-owned lots for $1 apiece for affordable housing projects, and in other cases negotiates land prices.

The article does not explain how the city came to own the land, whether by sale for delinquent taxes or by eminent domain.

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