Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Clean Sweep at U of Illinois?

It all started with the mascot, of course, who was booted out of Urbane-Champagne two years ago less for being racially offensive than for having been the cause of NCAA sanctions against hosting postseason sports events at the great big school on the edge of the prairie. There is no evidence so far that the mascot was in any way involved in the admissions scandal that has now engulfed the entire upper level of the UIUC administration as well as the university's board of trustees, but we're taking a wait-and-see position on whether poor old mothballed Chief Illiniwek will eventually be sucked into the maelstrom of this Category I storm. This is Illinois, after all -- Land of Blago and Burris and Ryan and Rosti.

We pause at this point to express our sympathies to our loyal band of Illinois lurkers, all of whom are fine, upstanding individuals whom, we wish to emphasize, have nothing whatsoever to do with admissions. We don't make the news, kids. We just snark it. Don't take it personal.

Anyway, with word yesterday that UIUC Chancellor (and former QTU dean) Richard Herman is stepping down (but staying on campus as a well-compensated "special assistant" to the interim president -- sweet!), the purge of administrators associated with what the Chicago Tribune describes as "a shadow admissions system that allowed subpar but well-connected students to get into the state's premier public school" appears to be complete. Illinois' President, B. Joseph White, resigned last month, and six members of the board of trustees have been replaced in the wake of the scandal. Former UIUC Provost Linda Katehi left Shampoo-Banana this past spring to become chancellor at UC Davis, but a faint whiff of the scandal accompanied her to the Left Coast, prompting UC system funeral director Mark Yudof to issue a statement expressing full confidence in the new hire in June. Hmmm. As we have said before, with friends like Yudof, higher ed needs no enemies.

Herman seems to have been the architect of the admissions system, known internally as Category I. According to the Trib, the end run began when Herman was provost and continued through his tenure as chancellor, with him personally overruling admissions staff in order "to admit students connected to university trustees, lawmakers, and other powerful people." Tricky Dick had his hands in every layer of the admissions cake, as more than 800 undergraduates received special consideration under the program but dozens of grad school applicants and a number of law school aspirants also benefited more from their connections than from their test scores. Herman even conspired with then-Gov. Blago and then-trustee Lawrence Eppley to guarantee jobs for 5 subpar graduates of the law school (who had been admitted over the dean's objections) in an effort to protect the school's ranking.

And there it is, comrades: That stench you smell is the odor arising from the ugly stew/poo of public institutions desperate to ingratiate themselves to the parsimonious keepers of the purse strings while battling to stay competitive in the morally bankrupt yet all-important game of rankings, ranking, rankings. With or without a series of incriminating e-mails, we are all more or less stuck in this same hard, stinky place. Today, as the denizens of Urbana-Champaign raise their noses in the air hoping to catch the sweet smell of a refreshing new breeze blowing across the prairie, the rest of us in public higher ed should have the guts to take a good, long sniff of our own campuses and see what's brewing in the pressure cooker. It's easy to stand in solidarity with our besieged colleagues on the West Coast and declare that, "We are all Californians." It's more difficult but just as necessary to take a look in the mirror and acknowledge that in many painful respects we are all Illini as well.

Pick up your brooms and start sweeping, kids. Even a dog can't stand the smell in this place. Peace out.


  1. OK--as a UofI alum, enough with the snarky Shampoo-Banana references. And let me say I'm shocked, simply shocked, to learn that politically connected or rich applicants get admissions strings pulled for them. I'm sure this doesn't happen at any other institutions of higher education, where "legacy" consideration has no doubt been completely eliminated from the admissions process and where there is a wall of separation between university development, admissions, and trustees, and between all of these groups in the university and the wealthy or otherwise connected outside it. Something about glass houses keeps running through my mind . . .

  2. Exactly, Kelly -- and thus the line, in bold and italic, WE ARE ALL ILLINI AS WELL. That was the whole point of the post!

  3. Right, ML. My comments--aside from the reprimand about the shampoo-banana references--were meant to affirm that. I am a bit dumbfounded by the "outrage" this discovery is generating. About as ridiculous as the presumption of all those "reverse discrimination" lawsuits that think SAT scores are all that should matter.

    Illinois apparently is glad to throw its trustees and president under the bus. And the relative lack of "we are all Illini" identifications suggest most others would do likewise. Plus ca change.

  4. Sorry, but our Department of Great Adventures in Misnaming is way too enamored of Shampoo-Banana and Urbane-Champagne to give them up. We do hereby publicly promise, however, that if QTU ever finds itself engulfed in some embarrassing scandal we'll subject it to the same treatment. If the scandal involves money, we'll refer to QTU as the school in College PORK. If it involves alcohol, we'll say that the school slogan is BEER the Turtle.

    Honor bright, Kelly. We are equal opportunity mockers. As you will see when basketball season comes around and we turn our sights back on the hated Blue Devils. ;-)

  5. I vote for Cottage Pork.

  6. I'm rather late to the game here, but I'm relieved to know after further exploration that the UC system doesn't REALLY have a funeral director. I was beginning to wonder what kind of state I'd moved my family to.

  7. Yes, that's just a little bit of our sardonic wit aimed at one of the weaker links in American higher ed. Fear not, though, Sam. We are confident that the UC will have another, hopefully much better, person at the helm by the time Princess Dana is ready for college!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.