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Law Profs on Clout-Influenced Admissions: Everybody Does It

Posted Jul 6, 2009 8:12 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A group of law professors at the University of Illinois is taking exception to a Chicago Tribune series showing Illinois politicians and fundraisers used their clout to pressure the university and its law school to admit students.

The letter to the Tribune, posted by law professor Larry Ribstein at Ideoblog, says the story overlooks the fact that clout-influenced admissions aren’t all that unusual.

The Tribune series reported that U of I compiled an applicant clout list based on lobbying by government officials. Some on the list won admission despite protests by some U of I officials that they didn’t meet the standards. The series is a nonstory, according to the law professors.

“We have between us taught at many different universities in the United States,” says the letter, signed by Ribstein and more than a dozen other law professors. “The story the Tribune has ‘discovered’ about the University of Illinois could be written about every one of them. This fact is not one to be celebrated, nor is the fact that ‘everyone does this’ given as an excuse. But this fact does call into question whether the story merits the amount of attention given it by the Tribune, to say nothing of the shocked tone of the Tribune’s editorials and columns.”

The letter points out that public universities face pressure from politicians who hold financial sway over their budgets. It quotes University of Chicago law professor Brian Leiter, who wrote at his Brian Leiter’s Law School Reports: “The Chicago Tribune … appears to have missed the actual story (they are journalists after all): The University of Illinois is hostage to the public purse for a lot of its operations, so every request for ‘special consideration’ on admissions from a politician with influence on the purse strings comes with an implied threat: Admit this student, or lose funding.”

The law professors’ letter questions why the Tribune’s editorials and columnists attacked university officials rather than the lawmakers and trustees who sought to influence the admissions process. To make their point, the professors again quote Leiter, who said, “Attacking university officials over this scandal is like attacking the victim of a robbery for handing over his money.”

The letter goes on to skewer the Tribune writers and editors involved in the series. “Some Tribune staffers seem to have deluded themselves into thinking that they are the next Woodward and Bernstein," it read.

“The Tribune’s ‘clout goes to college’ stories have all been about the abuse of power of university administrators and politicians. Newspapers also wield a great deal of power, and like all power, theirs too can be abused. Such is the case here. The Tribune should publicly apologize to those whom it has unjustifiably demonized.”

Related posts on ABAJournal.com:

U of I Law School Got Scholarship Cash for Clout Admissions

Unqualified Law Student Admitted in Exchange for Promise of 5 Jobs

Fed Probe of Ex-Ill. Gov. Blagojevich Now Includes State Universities

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

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