Admissions Policies At University Of Illinois Under Investigation

Gov. Patrick J. Quinn of Illinois appointed a panel on Wednesday to investigate accusations that the University of Illinois admitted hundreds of applicants based largely on their political connections.

Mr. Quinn said the Admissions Review Commission would look into 800 applicants who, as first reported by The Chicago Tribune, won spots at the university's Urbana-Champaign campus after intervention from state lawmakers and university trustees. The Tribune said these students, whose names appeared on an internal list, were admitted even though some did not meet the university's admission standards.

"We want to make sure that the taxpayers, parents and students of Illinois know there is no kind of special process where individuals who have less qualifications are admitted because of their political influence or clout," Mr. Quinn, a Democrat, said. The University of Illinois, which has three campuses, is considered the state's most prestigious public university.

The commission, which is to complete its work in 60 days, will be led by Abner Mikva, a retired federal judge and former state legislator and congressman, who had been a professor at the University of Chicago Law School. Mr. Mikva said the panel should not be as concerned about meting out punishment as with ensuring that any patronage influence in the university's admission practices would not be tolerated.

"You can't just criticize the politicians, because they will only push as hard as the institution allows," Mr. Mikva said. "We certainly don't want to weed out kids, but on the basis of the university's grading policy, they will see which ones merit retention."

B. Joseph White, the president of the university, said in a written statement that he was "mandating complete and full cooperation with the commission from every member of the university community."

While Mr. White said the university would not do its own investigation, he said the governor's commission "will have access to everybody and everything it needs to conduct its work."

A spokesman for the Better Government Association said accusations of interfering with the admissions process by university officials and Illinois politicians were not surprising, given the culture of corruption permeating the state, with the last two governors indicted.

"This isn't about a kid, it's about grown-ups misbehaving," said the spokesman, Andy Shaw, the executive director of the association.

"This is pay-to-play in a different form, not the back room of the governor's office, but in the hallowed halls of the ivory tower," Mr. Shaw said.

State Representative Michael J. Boland, a Democrat from Moline, said that since the accusations were made public last month, it was hard to walk down the street without being stopped by a disheartened parent, sharing a sad story with a familiar ring.

"People are telling me stories about their son or daughter, excellent students, who earned all A's and one B, but got a rejection letter from the U of I," Mr. Boland said.

Earlier this week he called for the resignation of the university's president and any trustees involved with the list of applicants.

"In some of these cases, the students admitted were set up to fail," Mr. Boland added. "They were not doing these students any favors by getting them accepted, and the reputation of a world-class institution has been tarnished."