A REAL problem for modern universities

There have been a lot of people of late who have offered suggestions for “improving” the university system, mainly by putting the blame on the faculty.  There’s been criticism that the educational system produces “dull” scientists, and the more-or-less perennial calls for a heavier regulation of faculty members and an abolishment tenure.  However, as a recent case illustrates, perhaps faculty members shouldn’t be the only ones blamed for the quality of the system:

What does it cost to get an unqualified student into the University of Illinois law school?

Five jobs for graduating law students, suggest internal e-mails released Thursday.

The documents show for the first time efforts to seek favors — in this case, jobs — for admissions, the most troubling evidence yet of how Illinois’ entrenched system of patronage crept into the state’s most prestigious public university.

They also detail the law school’s system for handling “Special Admits,” students backed by the politically connected, expanding the scope of a scandal prompted by a Chicago Tribune investigation.

In one e-mail exchange, University of Illinois Chancellor Richard Herman forced the law school to admit an unqualified applicant backed by then- Gov. Rod Blagojevich while seeking a promise from the governor’s go-between that five law school graduates would get jobs. The applicant, a relative of deep-pocketed Blagojevich campaign donor Kerry Peck, appears to have been pushed by Trustee Lawrence Eppley, who often carried the governor’s admissions requests.

This is pretty appalling, and to me illustrative of a real problem with modern universities: the view that an education is simply a commodity to be sold, and more broadly that a university should be run just like any other business.  Reading the full article, I feel bad for the Dean of the Law School, who resisted pressure to admit the sub-par candidates as much as possible.

While I sympathize with the view that a university has to keep itself financially viable, far too often it seems that administrations try and improve the prestige and success of the institution by every method except the one that counts: maintaining first-rate academic programs.

Is there any part of Illinois that Rod Blagojevich didn’t corrupt?

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2 Responses to A REAL problem for modern universities

  1. Mary says:

    Rod Blagojevich seems to believe that this is just how the world operates, that everything is a negotiation, an exchange of favors. He feels hard done by because he thinks this is how everyone behaves, and we’re all hypocrites for calling him on it.

    Illinoisans, at least, Chicagoans, seem to kind of agree with him. We re-elected him (well, not me) in spite of the fact that he made very little effort to hide his sleezeball ways, in the same way that we keep re-electing Mayor Daley, who barely manages to pay lip service to democracy.

    The difference is, I think, the Mayor Dayley actually cares a great deal about the city of Chicago. Maybe not enough about its poorest occupants, but he wants nothing more than to be dictator of a great, thriving, beautiful metropolis. He doesn’t want to be president and I don’t think he really wants to be rich. He just wants Chicago to be the greatest damn city in the world, and he will do an end run around any aldermen who try to (as he sees it) stand in the way of that.

    Blagojevich, on the other hand, turns out to have been pretty un-interested in governing the state of Illionois. It was nothing but a convenient source of jobs and money he could trade for personal favors.

    It’s a not a distinction that’s often made, but you know, there’s corruption and there’s corruption. It’s one thing to be horse-trading in service of policy aims you really believe in, and another to do it in the service of your own wallet and those of your cronies. Illinoisans really are pretty willing to tolerate the former, but unfortunately, it clears the way for the latter… I think that’s how these things keep happening, at all levels of government.

    • Mary: I grew up in the Chicago area (well, the western suburbs; does that count?), and have pretty much the same impression about Illinois politics that you do. I used to say to people, “ALL our politicians are completely corrupt; we just hope that we elect someone who throws us a few crumbs as they loot the coffers.”

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