Monday, July 6, 2009
Look at how the ABA Journal misrepresents the letter from Illinois law faculty about political muscle being used to secure admission for students to the university: "Law Profs on Clout-Influenced Admissions: Everybody Does It." That is obviously designed to leave readers with the impression that the Illinois faculty argue that it is OK to admit sub-par students in response to political pressure. But the letter says nothing of the kind! (Note that the author of the article may not have written the misleading headline.) The faculty letter says, among other things, that: (1) the widespread use of political pressure on university admissions decisions raises a question about newsworthiness in this case; (2) it would be good if all admissions decisions were on the academic merits, and not influenced by non-academic criteria (but they aren't, and they probably can't be); and (3) the university has to be responsive to those who fund the university. This last point surely bears emphasizing: if Chancellor Herman simply "blew off" every legislator seeking "special consideration" for an admissions candidate, the price would not be paid by Chancellor Herman, but by students at the university who would bear the brunt of budget cutbacks. Elected officials should be called to task for using their power over the pursestrings to secure "favors" for friends and constituents, but until the political culture changes, university officials are in an impossible position: they are supposed to protect the educational interests of students at the university, but to do so, they can not antagonize powerful politicans. If the Chicago Tribune stories have the effect of changing the political culture with respect to university admissions, that would be great; but the villains in this piece are those exercising their power to extract special favors, not those who are trying to protect the interests of the university and its educational mission.
UPDATE: OK, I take it back: journalists aren't hopeless at all when compared to the bottomfeeders of the blogosphere who post comments at the Volokh blog. Apparently professors aren't supposed to make arguments, let alone long ones! The nerve of some people, I guess. But it's indicative of why there's a PR problem for the university here given the low level of the ratiocination skills of members of the nominally educated public.