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Quinn To Investigate University Of Illinois Admissions

First Posted: 07/11/09 06:12 AM ET Updated: 05/25/11 02:25 PM ET

Illinois

CHICAGO (AP) -- A former federal judge is heading an independent state commission investigating the University of Illinois for admitting politically connected applicants over more qualified students, Gov. Pat Quinn announced Wednesday.

The panel has 60 days to evaluate admission criteria and investigate instances of favoritism based on political connections at the state-funded school, whose flagship campus is in Champaign-Urbana.

"This is done ... to make sure the public understands that when someone is admitted to this institution it's done on their abilities and their merit, their qualifications and that politics, preferential treatment, undue influence has no role whatsoever to play," Quinn said at the school's Chicago campus, where he signed an executive order creating the seven-member Admissions Review Commission.

U of I has come under fire since the Chicago Tribune last month revealed a list, kept by the school, of politically connected students favored by lawmakers and trustees. It also reported that ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich intervened to help a relative of convicted fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko be admitted.

The university has since suspended its so-called "Category I" list and president Joseph White has pledged full cooperation with Quinn's commission.

"The commission will have access to everybody and everything it needs to conduct its work," White said in a statement. "Any request or directive from the commission is to be treated as the highest priority and responses are to be timely."

Abner Mikva, a former federal judge and congressman who headed a high-profile review of a 2003 fire in a downtown Cook County office building that killed six people, will lead the state investigation.

Other commission members include the head of a community service agency, business people and a former state executive inspector general under Blagojevich. Quinn's general counsel, Ted Chung, also will work with the commission.

Nick Burbules, chairman of the university's Faculty Senate and a professor of educational policy, said the admissions process needs to be reviewed but an investigation needs to reach beyond the Urbana-Champaign campus.

"Who's making the request in the first place? Is it appropriate for them to be putting that kind of pressure on the university?" Burbules said.

With Quinn's commission in place, White has shelved plans to create his own admissions task force. But Burbules said the university still needs to follow up with its own review of admissions and how it will handle future requests for special treatment.

Quinn called the U of I review an "alarm bell" for the other state universities to review their own admission practices.

"If there are any untoward things in any public university in Illinois, I think it's important that we eliminate them promptly so that the new school year is done fair and square," he said.

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Associated Press Writer David Mercer contributed to this report from Champaign.



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Filed by Ben Goldberger  |