Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Illinois: Do the Right Thing

By Richard Vedder

I am pained by the admissions scandal at the University of Illinois, one of my alma maters. It was revealed by the Chicago Tribune that large numbers of students were given preferences in admission because of their family connections, typically as the result of pressure from high level politicians, university trustees, or high level university officials. President Joe White's first defense ("everyone does it") was disturbing, even though probably true. The practice is inconsistent with the meritorious nature of American society and the role that universities play in promoting equal economic and educational opportunities.

Now the Faculty Senate has recommended that the President and Urbana campus Chancellor be fired. The last time I recall faculty at Illinois doing this was in 1953, when the faculty were successful in having a president removed from office --this is a rare thing that appropriately happens only one or twice in a person's lifetime. To this point, Illinois has ousted several trustees but none of the high level employees who actually made the ultimate decision to preferentially admit students. Lamentably (since I think Joe White is generally a good leader), I am afraid I have to agree with the Faculty Senate --the integrity of the university is at stake, and merely slapping wrists is not enough. Illinois now has agreed to do what all schools should do --move to a rigid policy of admission only on the basis of merit.

By the way, all of this reminds me, again, of my nervousness with the move to do away with required SAT examination scores for admission, which serve to give more weight to subjective judgments by admissions officers in selection decisions, and invites favoritism and corruption.

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