No, wait. That's the wrong joke. You call him a "Friend of Rod."
It seems that high officials at the University of Illinois Law School engaged in a sort of academic version of the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scheme. Except instead of dealing in munitions with murderous mullahs, University of Illinois Chancellor Richard Herman, Trustee Lawrence Eppley, and Law School Dean Heidi Hurd engaged in a morons-for-slackers deal with spectacularly crooked (now ex-) Governor Rod Blagojevich:
In one e-mail exchange, University of Illinois Chancellor Richard Herman forced the law school to admit an unqualified applicant backed by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich while seeking a promise from the governor's go-between that five law school graduates would get jobs. The applicant, a relative of deep-pocketed Blagojevich campaign donor Kerry Peck, appears to have been pushed by Trustee Lawrence Eppley, who often carried the governor's admissions requests.
When Law School Dean Heidi Hurd balked on accepting the applicant in April 2006, Herman replied that the request came "Straight from the G. My apologies. Larry has promised to work on jobs (5). What counts?"
Hurd replied: "Only very high-paying jobs in law firms that are absolutely indifferent to whether the five have passed their law school classes or the Bar."
Hurd's e-mail suggests that students getting the jobs are to be those in the "bottom of the class." Law school rankings depend in part on the job placement rate of graduates.
In other words, officials at the school agreed to play ball with the Governor — who rivals Kim Il Jong as the political leader with the most impressive combination of dementia, corruption, and wrath-of-an-angry-God hair — by admitting an unqualified student in exchange for the Governor's help getting five unqualified graduates law jobs.
Is this corrupt? Certainly. Should it humiliate the law school, its administrators, and its students? Certainly. Should such corruption be punished? Yes.
But temper your outrage with this: joking aside, this is not really like trading anything of value for anything else of value. This is more like me promising you that I'll get my palmist to give you a favorable read if you put in a good word for me at your aromatherapist. Admissions, and law school grades, are arbitrary.
Law schools pretend to know how to pick out qualified students. But as the article reveals, they were already accepting "special admits" when it suited them long before Rod got involved. They're already giving preference to legacies and children of big donors, who are just as likely to be morons as anyone else. And their judgment about who is or is not qualified is already questionable. How do you know? Because they let in five slackers who couldn't get a job without the help of a corrupt governor, that's why.
But maybe I've being unfair to those five. Because the other side of the coin is that law school grades are basically random. Take it from the guy who got an A+ in tax and a B- in evidence, despite having a grasp of those issues that suggest the exact opposite. That's why plenty of people who got shitty grades in law school go on to become extremely effective practitioners. And it's why — as the giant white-shoe BIGLAW firms learn every year — plenty of people who got straight As in law school wind up being a complete waste of a perfectly good stapler when exposed to actual practice.
(That said, if you manage to be in the top five of your class, you probably have some skillz. Nobody's that lucky. Similarly, if you are in the bottom five, I'm thinking you're probably not going to be setting the jurisprudential world on fire any time soon.)
We pretend, though, that law school admission is premised on reliable merit, and that excellence in grades reflects excellence in ability. It would be impolite to do otherwise. That's why the legal community will call for the heads of the University of Illinois officials.
Updated June 29: Hurd claims she was being satirical. I would want to see the full emails strings to evaluate that claim. It's not impossible. There are some areas where reality is so awful that it is impervious to satire; Illinois political corruption is one of those areas. This would be roughly like a senator sending emails joking about getting caught having an affair: so entirely plausible (both in the bad conduct and the foolish open discussion of the bad conduct) that it is easy to miss the satirical intent.
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