In the past months, reporting has divulged an admissions scandal at the University of Illinois, Champagne-Urbana – the university where UC Davis chancellor-designate Linda Katehi formerly presided over as provost.
The scandal, first reported in a series for The Chicago Tribune on May 29, linked Katehi to the university’s admittance of Category I admissions, or applicants affiliated with politicians or wealthy families. Approximately 800 students appearing on the “clout list” were admitted despite low test scores or sub par qualifications, according to The Tribune’s article, “Clout Goes to College.”
In one applicant’s case, Katehi was included in an e-mail list involving an applicant she identified as “the daughter of a fairly prominent Greek family in Chicago.” When informed of the girl’s admittance, Katehi replied to the e-mail by saying “excellent.”
In response to allegations of a Category I admission, Katehi first stated that she had no involvement in the admissions decisions reported in the Tribune article.
Katehi later reiterated this statement in a press release, saying that she “never attempted to alter, influence or interfere with the admissions decision of any applicant to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.”
Since the initial Tribune article, further reporting on evidence gained does not suggest that Katehi had a significant role in the scandal. Of the 1,800 documents relating to the case, Katehi was included in 14. The Chicago Tribune reported that this evidence “does not suggest” a significant role in the clout case, and Illinois’ Admissions Review Commission will not be investigating Katehi since she did not overrule any admissions decisions.
What Katehi left in Illinois
The Commission has instead chosen to investigate other faculty members of the University, including Chancellor Richard Herman and the Board of Trustees. Following the hearings held in early July, Chair of the Board of Trustees Lawrence Eppley resigned, urging his fellow trustees to do the same.
Eppley admitted in his testimony that inquiries about applicants and recommendations provided an “underground system” for admissions.
Herman also stated in his testimony that the clout list has “existed for decades.”
Katehi stated in a letter to Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Fred Wood that she was not involved with the Category I admissions, rather they were handled at a higher level.
“Provost Katehi, to my knowledge, was and is not involved in this controversy,” said Joseph White, president of the University of Illinois system in a letter to president Yudof. “The reason is that the Chancellor [Richard Herman] handled these matters directly with the admissions director and, in some cases, deans. I do not believe that Provost Katehi’s name has appeared in the press for the simple reason that she had no involvement in admissions cases that are fueling the controversy.”
The need for an investigation
However many student and community members feel that an investigation by the UC Regents is still necessary due to her association with the admissions office at Illinois.
“We’re not saying that she’s guilty, we just want her to comply with an investigation [by the UC Regents} to show that she is a person of integrity,” said Johnathen Duran, senior community and regional development major and creator of the Facebook group, Students For Truth: Investigation or Resignation at UC Davis.
“She should at least apologize for all those put on the waitlist in place of those who were admitted because of their wealth and status.”
The group also believes that the admissions case disempowered the lower and working classes because a clout list such as Illinois’ gave priority to students affiliated with prominent politicians and wealthy families.
Commissioners in the review commission have suggested a code of conduct that would monitor such conflicts, should they occur in the future, according to an article in the News-Gazette.
UC’s treatment of clout
UC officials have expressed confidence that such a scandal would not occur in their system, due to specific policies barring any consideration of development from influencing admissions decisions and a monitored Admissions and Enrollment Committee.
The policy states that “admissions motivated by concern for financial, political or other such benefit to the University do not have a place in the admissions process.”
Should knowledge of such behavior occur, the Academic Senate must be notified, according to the policy, which is available on the UC Office of the President webpage.
“There are specific policies that prohibit what happened at Illinois from happening at a UC school,” said Frank Wada, the executive director of Undergraduate Admissions. “Even if it did happen, the reporting structures specifically state that if a chancellor makes that kind of decision, it must go to the Board [of Regents].”
Though Wada has only been director for one month, he said that the previous director never received any request to overturn requests or recommendations made by lawmakers or outside parties.
In her letter to Wood, Katehi expressed appreciation for the Regents’ code, which she said supports a transparent admissions process.
“I was very pleased to learn … that the University of California and UC Davis have a well-established process that does not allow for special categories outside of what is defined by the campus admissions process,” Katehi said.
LAUREN STEUSSY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.