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U. of I. admissions scandal: Pressure builds on university
Alumni and public officials reacted with everything from anger to shrugs Friday as they heard new e-mail revelations about the intertwining of clout and admissions at the University of Illinois law school.
Documents released Thursday showed that in a four-year period the law school enrolled at least 24 "special interest" students -- individuals who gained admission under the sway of the politically connected. And in one e-mail exchange, the chancellor appeared to be seeking jobs for law school graduates in exchange for the admission of a student with poor credentials but the backing of the governor, documents show.
State Rep. Mike Boland (D-East Moline), chairman of the state House Higher Education Committee, renewed calls Friday for the resignation of U. of I. Chancellor Richard Herman, Trustee Lawrence Eppley and any high-ranking officials involved in giving special treatment to well-connected students.
Boland says he is troubled that at least a half-dozen people were copied on e-mails regarding efforts to secure the jobs, but none of the documents released show anybody objecting to it.
"Where were the trustees?" Boland said. "That's their job, to protect the university. These people's attitudes kind of floor me."
Alumnus Martin Tasch, a graduate of the law school class of 1985, in private practice in Chicago and Oak Brook, called the revelations "very disappointing."
"It's unfortunate but not surprising because of the climate of Illinois politics," Tasch said. "U. of I. is considered one of the top law schools in the country, and I hope it doesn't tarnish its reputation."
But Jason DeJonker, who graduated in 2000 and practices bankruptcy and financial restructuring for Seyfarth Shaw, said he didn't think the U. of I. handled the situation differently than any other school.
"I think those kind of things happen at every university in the United States," he said. "I don't even know if it bothers me that much. I guess I am just more realistic."
U. of I. spokesman Thomas Hardy said it is too soon to say whether anybody will be held accountable. "The commission process will move forward, and I think all of this will be reviewed as the [state admissions] commission issues its findings and recommendations."
Stephen Gillers, a New York University School of Law professor who specializes in legal ethics, predicted the scandal would seriously damage the reputation of the school.
"The full extent of this ... must be made public and the people responsible forever excluded from any direct or indirect role in the admission decisions," he wrote in an e-mail to the Tribune.
While board members wouldn't comment specifically on what they discussed in closed session this week, two said the board discussed potential consequences for those involved in preferential admissions. "We discussed a lot of ramifications," said trustee Kenneth Schmidt.
"There are a few cases that are problematic or appear to be problematic and we must do something to correct it," said trustee David Dorris. "This has got to stop."
In the e-mail exchanges from the spring of 2006, then-Law School Dean Heidi Hurd objected to Herman about the admission of a relative of Kerry Peck, a generous campaign donor to then- Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Admissions officials cautioned that by admitting the student, they were "setting this young man up to fail."
Herman apologized but said the request came "straight from the G." Then he said: "Larry has promised to work on jobs (5). What counts?"
Hurd replied: "Only very high-paying jobs in law firms that are absolutely indifferent to whether the five have passed their law school classes or the Bar."
About two hours later, Herman e-mailed university trustee Lawrence Eppley and asked for his help "in obtaining 5 government and or law profession jobs for graduates of our Law School, upon their graduation in May and (potentially) preliminary to their passing the bar." In May 2007, Hurd stepped down from the post and is now a professor of law and philosophy at the school. She did not return repeated calls from the Tribune.
Ronald J. Allen, a professor at Northwestern Law, said his friend Hurd had little option other than to go along.
"When the superior instructs a subordinate to do something they only have two choices: They do it or they will be removed," Allen said Friday. "She shouldn't be held up as part of the problem."
Bruce P. Smith, who became the dean of the law school in January, did not return a call for comment.
Tribune reporter Stacy St. Clair contributed to this report.