Clout Goes To College

Friday, June 5, 2009
Over the last several days, the Chicago Tribune's Stacy St. Clair and Jodi S. Cohen have produced an eye-opening series ("Clout goes to college") on the so-called "clout list" (or "Category I" list) utilized by the University of Illinois, apparently affording the well-connected a leg up in the admissions process at that state's flagship campus. And, yes, even former Governor Rod Blagojevich and influence peddler Tony Resko make guest appearances in this series. It's a good read.
At a time when it's more competitive than ever to get into the University of Illinois, some students with subpar academic records are being admitted after interference from state lawmakers and university trustees, a Tribune investigation has revealed.

Hundreds of applicants received special consideration in the last five years, according to documents obtained by the Tribune under the state's Freedom of Information Act. The records chronicle a shadow admissions system in which some students won spots at the state's most prestigious public university over the protests of admissions officers, while others had their rejections reversed during an unadvertised appeal process.
While UI officials initially downplayed the use of the clout list, they since have suspended its use pending further investigation. "Clout list put on suspension" (6/2/2009)

Is anyone really surprised by the existence of such a list or the fact that well-connected students get preferential treatment? In actuality, is it necessarily any worse than legacies or athletes receiving special consideration? Don't all such exceptions trample upon an assumed merit-based admissions process?

I'm no expert in this area -- but I imagine that this isn't simply an "Illinois is corrupt" issue, but that such practices are rather widespread in college admissions processes. Am I wrong? Or is UI simply a bad apple spoiling the whole bunch?