The cost of attending the University of Illinois is more than you think.
A Chicago Tribune investigation revealed today that the Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan – father of the Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan – used his political clout to lobby the U. of I. admissions office into accepting applicants tied to some of Madigan’s key contributors and allies.
The 28 applicants who were accepted as a result of Madigan’s intervention – what is being called the “clout list” – belong to families that contributed over $100,000 to campaigns connected to Madigan, directly or indirectly. Of the 28 who were accepted, only five lived in Madigan’s district.
A North Shore attorney, Steven Yonover, has contributed $47,020 to both Madigans since the early 1990s and $51,800 to the Democratic Party of Illinois since 1998, an organization which the House Speaker chairs. Three of Yonover’s relatives were enrolled in U. of I. in 2008 and 2009 thanks to Madigan’s help; two were previously waitlisted, and the third had the school’s lowest possible admissions rating.
The scandal involves the Chicago and Champaign-Urbana campuses, and includes both undergraduate and graduate students. One student, whose identity was not revealed by the Tribune, was even able to attend and graduate from U. of I. Law School.
While Madigan admits to helping admit applicants whose families were major supporters of his, the House Speaker denies intervening in the school’s admissions process as a personal favor to campaign contributors, telling the Tribune, “I would do so without regard or consideration as to any political relationships or campaign contributions.”
One family also told the Tribune that he was unaware of the “clout list” but didn’t see anything wrong with it. “My son is a big Madigan supporter, so I don’t see what the problem would be,” Stanley Gruca told the newspaper. He is the father of Steven Gruca, a retired Cook County probation officer who has contributed over $18,000 to funds tied to Michael and Lisa Madigan. Steven Gruca had two relatives admitted to U. of I. in 2008.
Chicagoans may be used to politicians corrupted by greed who pocket a few kickbacks on the side, but corruption of the Illinois public education system is egregious on two fronts.
First, Illinois’s public schools – including its universities – should be open to anyone academically eligible. When the state’s powerful politicians use their political muscle to pull a few strings within a school’s admissions office, it sets up an unfair system for the majority of Illinois residents who don’t have political connections. Such corruption creates a rigged environment in which socioeconomic classes are static: the rich and powerful stay rich and powerful, while the poor and disenfranchised remain so, in virtual perpetuity.
And second, a system that allows people to receive a quality education based, not on merit, but on political weight, places an entire society at risk of decline. If the state’s education system does not train the best and the brightest the state has to offer, Illinois’s private workforce and public servants will reflect such deficiency.
Unlike politicians who accept bribes from development contractors and whatnot, what the House Speaker is doing qualifies as stealing from the people of Illinois. He is robbing its children of the opportunity to attend a quality university which the people of the state contribute to, and he is robbing its economy of bright, skilled workers.