CHICAGO
08/08/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

U of I Clout Update: Congressman Calls On Trustees To Resign, Ex-Law Dean Testifies

On the same day the former dean of the University of Illinois Law School testified to a state panel about political influence in admissions, a Congressman called for the resignation of school trustees appointed by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

"The Board of Trustees are charged with overseeing a flagship state institution of higher learning in the University of Illinois," U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, Republican from Peoria, said in a statement. "Unfortunately, time and time again Trustees appointed by Rod Blagojevich have violated the public trust and responsibility of their positions by trading favors and applying political pressure to ensure unqualified applicants received special treatment."

All but one of the board's nine trustees were appointed or reappointed by Blagojevich, the Tribune reports. The ninth was appointed by current Gov. Quinn.

Read Schock's entire statement here.

The full AP story, by Rupa Shenoy, on former U of I Law Dean Heidi Hurd's testimony is below.

CHICAGO (AP) -- The former dean of the University of Illinois College of Law testified Wednesday that students she was forced to admit because of clout didn't take spots away from more qualified applicants.

Heidi Hurd testified before a state commission formed by Gov. Pat Quinn to investigate the role political clout played in the university's admissions process. The commission, led by former federal Judge Abner Mikva, is due to issue a report next month.

Hurd acknowledged that the university forced the law school to take politically connected students who otherwise would have been rejected, but she said those applicants were added only after admissions officials had selected a full class of students.

Hurd told commission members that she opposed the clout system but didn't feel that she had many options for fighting it.

"I didn't think I had the authority to say no," said Hurd, who remains on the law school's faculty after stepping down from the dean's post in 2007. "I was pushing back, but I ultimately thought they had the authority."

After being forced to admit underqualified students, Hurd sought and received scholarship money from the university that she used to entice applicants with better credentials who could offset the negative impact of clout on the law school's standings, she said.

Stacy Kostell, director of admissions, testified later Wednesday that in the 2008-2009 academic year, there were 160 applicants on the clout list, of which about 70 were admitted on their own merit.

Another 33 were initially denied, but admissions officials were overruled by the university, and the students were accepted. The entire class had about 17,000 students.

Kostell became emotional as she defended the work of her office.

"It's been so overblown in the media, that the admissions process doesn't have integrity, but it really does," she said tearfully, adding that she disagreed with the acceptance of the 33 applicants. "That doesn't mean the whole system is corrupt."

The university's clout list, dubbed "Category I" by officials, has existed for decades and was set up to track applicants who were recommended by trustees, lawmakers and donors, among others.

After the Chicago Tribune reported on the "Category I" list in May, the university suspended its use, and President Joseph White has pledged to cooperate with the investigation.

In a statement Wednesday, White said he plans to testify before the commission.

"Our goal as a University is to fully air the problems with our current admissions practices so that we can take corrective action and ensure public confidence in our admissions process going forward," White said. "We are committed to having a fair and transparent admissions process that is free from inappropriate interference and pressures."

The law school had its own tracking system for applicants, which has also been suspended, officials said.

Paul Pless, assistant dean of law school admissions, testified before the panel Monday that over four years, the university forced the College of Law to admit 24 politically connected students. During that time, about 900 students were admitted overall.

Pless said the number of forced admissions gradually tapered off after peaking in 2006, and that there haven't been any this year.

Bruce Smith, the current law school dean and a former sports lawyer, testified that he would resign rather than be forced to admit undesired students.

"You don't waste any of your draft picks," he said.

-ASSOCIATED PRESS