"Clout list" at UIllinois suspended after Tribune investigation

Politicians submitted names of sub-par students, who received preferential treatment

Following an investigation by the Chicago Tribune, officials at the University of Illinois have announced that they will suspend “Category I” — an internal list of well-connected student applicants who receive preferential treatment.

In a series of articles that began last Friday, the Tribune reported evidence stemming from a Freedom of Information request that sub-par applicants had been admitted to the school under the political sponsorship of state lawmakers and university trustees over the past five years. That investigation also revealed that acceptance decisions, at times, occurred over the objections of admissions officers.

Last week, officials from the university issued statements saying that they “mostly get it right.”

During its investigation, the Tribune found instances in which the school’s lobbyists overruled rejections, blew up at admissions staff and forwarded veiled threats from politicians who wanted candidates admitted. According to documents, both Democrat and Republican politicians had asked lobbyists to track the status of more than 500 applications, which made up more than half of the names on the “Category I” list.

The paper says the so-called “clout list” creates an awkward situation in which university officials are taking requests from legislators who hold the school’s purse strings and trustees who are, in essence, their bosses.

School officials have announced plans to appoint a panel to investigate the practice and suggest how to make sure in the future that admissions decisions aren’t subject to political pressure.

“The review will examine how contacts from legislators, trustees, alumni and others have been managed in the past, what best practices are at peer institutions and what changes should be made going forward to ensure the integrity of the admissions process,” said the university’s statement.