Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Joe White's Resignation at Illinois

By Richard Vedder

We have blogged a bit about the Illinois admissions scandal, where preferential treatment was given to sons and daughters from influential families. The scandal has led to the ouster (sometimes voluntary) of several university trustees. I have argued, however, that the actual implementation of a policy of preferential admissions was at the order of senior administrators, and they should be held accountable.

Now I learn that President Joseph White is resigning. It is the right thing to do, and whether it happened voluntarily or in response to trustee or other pressure, I do not know, but I am glad it has happened.

However, I am also saddened. By all accounts, Joe White was generally an able administrator, a dynamic leader. I met him on two or three occasions, and was generally highly impressed. The totality of his performance at Illinois might have been positive, but the manipulation of the admissions process so strikes at the heart of the integrity of the academic enterprise that President White had no real alternative. Probably, other heads should roll as well, including the campus chancellor and perhaps other admissions officials.

I hope a constructive lesson is learned from the Illinois tragedy. Other university presidents, who have been doing similar things for years, should be scared out of their minds and rapidly adopt a Simon pure admissions process where favoritism plays no role. It seems to work at Cal Tech, why not other great schools? I am concerned that a new trend of moving away from objective criteria for admissions (e.g., looking at both grades and test scores) increases the possibility of mischief similar to what happened at the University of Illinois, a great institution that Forbes and CCAP in their latest rankings considered the best public school in the Big Ten athletic conference.

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