Class Sues University of Illinois Over Clout

     CHICAGO (CN) – The University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana favors applicants with political clout over good students, a class action claims in Federal Court. The class claims the university rejected qualified students, but accepted unqualified ones who have relations with politicians and other “very important” people – and even kept a “clout list” for a decade.

     The class claims that between 1999 and 2009 the university maintained a “clout list,” also known as a “Category I” list, of students who were admitted because of their political connections, though they had lower exam scores and class ranks than other applicants.
     The university claims its admission criteria includes a strong academic record, competitive test scores, leadership and communication skills, but does not mention political connections, the class says. It adds that students are pay a $40 application fee, but are not told that their chance of admission is diminished if they lack clout.
     “Politically appointed trustees and lawmakers routinely behave as armchair admissions officers advocating on behalf of relatives and neighbors – even housekeepers’ kids and families with whom they share Hawaiian vacations … They declare their candidates ‘no brainers’ for admission and suggest that if they are not accepted, the admission system may need revamping,” according to the complaint.
     Named plaintiff Jonathon Yard says his application to enter in the fall of 2008 was rejected though he scored a 29 on the ACT, ranked in the top 15 percent of his class, “was a varsity athlete and participated in extracurricular activities.”
     A Chicago Tribune article reported this year that unqualified Category I applicants were admitted to UI even after admissions officers protested.
     The class claims that Category I people were allowed to appeal rejections, “which often resulted in reconsideration of their application and ultimately, admission to the university.”
     The class claims other applicants were not even aware they could appeal, and that the university does not actually have an “official appeals process.”
     The class says the university also granted law school admissions in exchange for law firm jobs for its students.
     The class seeks actual and punitive damages for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, fraud and denial of equal protection. Its lead counsel is Larry Drury.
     “Clout” has a long, ignoble tradition in Chicago. Mike Royko wrote a famous column in which he instructed Chicagoans on the proper use of the word.

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