The U of I Conundrum


The pages of the Tribune have burned with indignation at the
saga of legislative clout being applied to the University of Illinois
Admissions Office.  I understand
the distaste that politicizing admissions brings.  I expect that this pressure is most acutely felt at
Champaign-Urbana, where the prestige and value of a Big Ten education is the
end goal for many parents. 
However, I laughed when I watched panelist on Chicago Tonight expressed
her horror, surprise, and outrage at this process.  Oh, how must the poor rejected students feel?  I can answer that first hand:  Bummed out.  Bowed but not broken. 
Redirected.  Sorry that they
did not score higher, work harder in high school, or participate in more
activities that indicate probable success at U of I.  Maybe sorry that their Dad or Mom wasn’t politically
connected.  But I expect they
aren’t as puffed up as the Tribune’s editors are. 

Rejection is a terribly hard thing to bounce back from, but
it is a scenario that is likely to reoccur from birth to death. The “no” cannot
define you, but it can inspire you. 
Mature high school students are pragmatic enough to have a fall back
plan.  Most parents move their kids
along, and recover from their own disappointment.  Life is not always smooth, and not always fair, so Plan B is


I think that the University of Illinois fell into a trap
baited by Illinois legislators. Illinois is already a distant 49th
out of 50 in school funding.  The
elementary and secondary school funding is intact; the support for University
education has eroded.  17% less
money in aid has been directed to the University system in Illinois.  The tuition grants (Monetary Award
Program) were cut by 50% this year, leaving many students short of
funding.  Implicit in the meddling
is the fact that the level of funding for higher education depends on the
budget committee’s decision, and the legislative process.  We live in Illinois, where pragmatic
folks have learned that you give, and you get.   To some extent I can understand the Administrators at
Champaign believing that their actions were altruistic, since state funding
benefits the entire student body. 


Realistically, the gamble that any legislator would channel
funding to any University was a bad bet. 
Or wishful thinking. Maybe there is an ivory tower in Champaign, but
there is no such beast in Springfield.


All the compromising brought precious little to U of I
besides embarrassment and controversy. There will be no additional funding.
They can have bigger classes, fewer tenured professors, less research, deferred
capital projects.  Or they can
raise tuition, which happened in 2006-2007 with a 14% increase.  Tuition increases were smaller this year.  Still, there will be kids admitted who
cannot afford to go. The goal of extending admission to a more diverse
socio-economic and cultural demographic will erode with lost state scholarship
and grant programs.  Exposure to
diversity is a foundational goal of a University education. 


I am enormously attached to the U of I.  Two of my sons were accepted there;
Mike attended.  He did not set the
ACT curve, but he brought passion and determination to his application. His
essay, recommendations from his teachers, and four years of class leadership helped
tip him in. Today he carries ILL INI orange in his heart, on his license
plates, and in his wardrobe, with gratitude for all they gave him.  He wants his wedding to feature ORANGE
since his fiancé is from Princeton, and their school colors share that hue. Um-


A quick aside: 
Mike was Journalism major, and he wrote and rewrote scores of stories
for his classes.  The rule was, you
misspell, misquote, or fail to attribute properly, and you get an “F”.  He was a slave to editing every thing
he submitted, and lived on Tums.    When he graduated, we migrated down for both the
general commencement, and the Journalism school commencement.  The smaller ceremonies are more
personal, and have their own program. 
Mike’s name did not appear in it. 
He had been changed to Joseph Dahl. I returned home, and dashed off an
e-letter to every professor in the department, railing about how Mike had begun
his schooling with severe learning disabilities. I recounted how he basically
re-wired his brain with special education help, a ridiculous work ethic, and grit.  I gave them all an “F”.  I was a rabid bitch. 


I was shocked and touched that no less than four professors
took time to write me back with apologies, and more grace than I had
shown.   One gentleman even
opened up about his own son’s challenges. 
Six weeks later, I received 10 corrected programs in the mail.  Michael Joliat Dahl.  My son.  Not Joseph. Northwestern and DePaul fell short of this humanity.  


That is why U of I is a wonderful place to learn:  the students are part of a family that
chooses to reside near hog farms in order to glean or share the vast knowledge
imparted there.  I understand why
parents are desperate to get their kids in,  but parents shouldn’t assign their kid’s rejection to this


My third son is a smart person.  He had 31 on his ACTs, but his high school schedule was overloaded
with music offerings, not AP classes. 
He had a 3.5 GPA- too low relative to his ACT.  The “no” he received from U of I Champaign had a “yes” for U of I Springfield, complete with financial aid potential. Nope. Instead, he went to DePaul, where
the quarter system supported and sustained him.  He loved living in the city.  He got over it, got on with it.


 I want the U of
I and the Tribune to be able to do the same.  Let’s get a promise from all parties to never do it again, and stop beating
this horse. Let’s get trustees in place who are passionate about education, not politics and prestige.  It is back to school time!





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