06 July 2009

Gambling in Chief Illiniwek's Admissions Offices

I think I've finally figured out why the Chicago Tribune is so bent on excoriating the "clout list" at the University of Illinois:

U of I undergraduate admissions standards — and, in particular, to (in order) the College of Engineering, the College of Business, and the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences — are now too high for any of the so-called "journalists" at the Tribune to meet... and they can't stand the idea that high school students smarter than they are must still sweat over admissions.

Just compare an open letter from College of Law faculty (gratefully referenced from Professor Ribstein's website) to the substance of this morning's inane, unsigned rant in the Trib. Anyone who has applied for admission at a truly competitive school will recognize the "highly qualified, but still waitlisted" phenomenon; I remember it from applying to law schools, and even my undergraduate days (despite my "numerical qualifications," I actually got rejected from one undergraduate school... that was toward the bottom of my list; it was hardly the end of the world). Anyone who has been to any even moderately competitive graduate school — let alone the dehumanizing professional school admissions process — will break out laughing.

Instead, the Trib wants to move Champaign two states to the east, to the undergraduate-academics black hole of the Big Ten: Columbus, Ohio. (Note: In physics, black holes are powerful indeed, and in fact a necessary consequence of — and necessary to — the universe; I just wouldn't want to be near one.) In Ohio, actual qualifications only affect whether one must wait a year or two, or perhaps get shuffled to a "satellite" campus elsewhere in the state only to receive the same bloody diploma, so long as one has fulfilled the (laughable and minimal) course prerequisites; completing two years with a 2.0 average at an Ohio community college allows transfer as of right (which is slightly less generous than it used to be in the 1970s). Comparing "popular majors" between Illinois and Ohio State tells a fascinating story in itself... as does the comparative academic qualifications. None of this is to say that there are no outstanding undergraduate students at Ohio State; it is only to say that things are... different, particularly in the undergraduate programs — and evidently more satisfactory to the themselves-non-nerd journalism majors at the Trib.

Either that, or they're still pissed off that the Board of Trustees at the U of I finally decided to relegate the racist athletic mascot to official irrelevance, despite the Alumni Association's continued dithering.

Or both.

In any event, I'm shocked — shocked, I tell you — to find politicians attempting to influence admissions at a state school. Captain Renault would be, too. If it happens at Ivy League schools, should anyone really be surprised that it happens at public universities that (for some of their programs, at least) try to be comparable? Except, of course, in the little quirk that U of I undergraduate admissions files do not contain letters of recommendation... which is precisely what those with "clout" are used to being asked for.

And this little manufactured controversy continues to take attention away from the problem of "athletic" scholarships... and admissions; and of journalistic integrity at the Trib (when some of those state officials are/were responsible for denying the Tribune Company's request for subsidies for the Cubs); and of other aspects of journalistic integrity when some of the Trib's political allies in Springfield — and, given the personalities, quite probably some of the more-frequent users of the "clout list" — are the ones responsible for the continued budgetary deadlock. But far be it from me to question the so-called "liberal bias" of the MSM. I guess that sometimes that "enlightened" self-interest really doesn't reflect Enlightenment: It's more like Counter-Reformation, and a cultural Thirty Years' War.