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Law Dean’s E-Mail Shows Distaste for Clout-Heavy Admissions Decisions

Posted Jun 1, 2009 8:48 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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An e-mail dispatched by the former law dean at the University of Illinois is less than enthusiastic about a state senator’s recommendation for the admission of one applicant.

"She won't hurt us terribly, but she certainly won't help us," Dean Heidi Hurd wrote in reference to the applicant, in an e-mail to Chancellor Richard Herman. "She will almost certainly be denied admission if the process unfolds as we predict. But she can probably do the work. If you tell me we need to do this one, we will. We'll remember it though!"

"Please admit," Herman replied. "I understand no harm."

The Chicago Tribune obtained Hurd’s e-mail and hundreds others under a Freedom of Information Act request that showed “an ongoing power struggle between educators who want to protect the integrity of the state's most prestigious public university and administrators who also feel compelled to appease powerful lawmakers.” The article notes that lawmakers making requests on behalf of constituents oversee educational budgets, creating pressure to acquiesce.

Herman said not everyone who is recommended by clout-heavy officials wins admission to the university. The newspaper could not reach Hurd for comment.

The state senator making the request, Chris Lauzen, told the Tribune his request was part of delivering good service to constituents, and the student he recommended was highly qualified. He said the upsetting part of the e-mail exchange was the tone of Hurd’s e-mail. "If it were me, I'd fire her, maybe for insolence," Lauzen said. "If she doesn't believe the person is qualified, she should say no. Instead, she asks for a quid pro quo. Where are her ethics?"

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