Nearly a month after the Chicago Tribune exposed the influence of political clout in the admissions process at the University of Illinois, a group of the school's law professors are biting back.
In a 9-page "Open Letter to the Chicago Tribune" published Tuesday, the 16 professors accuse the Tribune of biased reporting and sensational editorial judgment in its "Clout Goes To College" series and the prominent placement it has received on the newspaper's front page and web site.
"We have read with ever increasing dismay the "State of Corruption: Clout goes to college" series of stories that have dominated both the front and the editorial pages of the Chicago Tribune since May 29, 2009," the letter begins. "Not dismay at the University of Illinois or its administrators; rather, dismay at the way that the Chicago Tribune has told the story. As long time academics who care deeply about the integrity of the Academy, we are disappointed in the Tribune's performance here. Consider three questions about that performance: (1) was there really a story here worthy of the kind of front page attention and editorializing focus lavished on this issue this past month? (2) Even if there was, has the Tribune told the story in a fair and unbiased way? (3) Since we conclude both that there was not much of a story here and that it was reported in a biased and slanted manner, this gives rise to the motivational question: what has apparently motivated the Tribune to go after this distinguished University and its equally distinguished administrators?"
The Tribune's reporting led Gov. Pat Quinn to establish a commission to investigate the role of political influence in state university admissions. Just yesterday, the U. of I.'s chancellor, Richard Herman, testified that he felt unable to resist the demands from trustees on behalf of connected applicants and that it was in the best interest of the school to scrap the "clout list," known as Category I.
U. of I. suspended the use of the Category I list following the Tribune's original investigation in May and school President Joseph White has promised to cooperate with the state panel.
But as university administrators face the state probe, the faculty behind the open letter condemn the Tribune for elevating a common, if tawdry, fact of university admissions to high scandal.
"We have between us taught at many different universities in the United States," the professors wrote. "The story the Tribune has 'discovered' about the University of Illinois could be written about every one of them. This fact is not one to be celebrated, nor is the fact that 'everyone does this' given as an excuse. But this fact does call into question whether the story merits the amount of attention given it by the Tribune, to say nothing of the shocked tone of the Tribune's editorials and columns."