Smile Politely

The irrelevance of “Clout U” to C-U

Am I the only one who is dumbfounded over the attention that the University of Illinois admissions scandal has garnered? Now I know what you’re going to say, so let me beat you to it, because I don’t need to be told that the actions of trustees, politicians and administrators were egregious and unfair, nor must I be reminded of the Rezko connection or the Blagojevich connection or of the 800 or so students who found their way onto the reprobate Category I list since 2005.

Heck, you don’t even need to cry out in piqued righteousness over all those hard working students who didn’t get in to the U of I because of those 800-some underachieving, politically connected nieces and nephews who did. I know all these things, and if it makes you feel any better, I can tell you that my heart bleeds a carefully rationed allotment for the students who now toil away at ISU, Parkland, Northwestern or wherever it is they ended up.

I get it: clout is bad.  Regardless of whether or not this kind of thing happens at nearly every other academic institution on the planet, nepotism has no place in a meritocracy. So just to be clear, I’m not saying that we should excuse the actions of the administrators and legislators who served us this raw pile of crap.

Instead, what I’m saying is that I’m honestly confused over why we as Champaign-Urbanians are making such a huge deal out of “Clout U” when much larger, much more egregious violations of educational fairness have become a part of our state’s (and our country’s) standard practice. Sadly, what I’m about to say is probably not going to be new to you, given that the inequities in our educational system aren’t really new to anyone. 

But hey, I’ll say it anyway: the way that we fund our schools does not ensure that all students are rewarded for their merit, but rather for their wealth (more on this in a second). So I guess my question for you is this: why are we so incensed at hearing about a group of less than 1,000 students who got shafted by their state’s flagship university, but we stay mum over the tens of thousands of students right here in our state and in our county who receive an under-funded and at times substandard education from their public schools?

The classic example of this is of course the Chicago Public Schools system, which spends about $11,000 per pupil as compared to New Trier which is located about 20 miles outside of city limits and spends about $7,000 more per student. Now, is it surprising that, in a supposed educational meritocracy, a predominately white school district in a predominantly upper-middle class community gets more funding, more resources and sends more students to college per capita than one of the under-funded urban schools that are only a half hour away from them?  Well, it should be, but for some reason its not. 

This flagrant example of educational inequity has been floating around for years with very little done about it, once again illustrating why the oft-repeated truism having to do with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, is a cliché for a reason.  But for some reason, we have chosen to confront a minor case of institutional nepotism instead of taking on an institutionalized inequity that affects far more people than Chancellor Herman’s homeboys ever will.  For some reason, “Clout U” has got us pounding our self-righteous chests in indignation, while we have sat complacently by, accepting the fact that we spend a mere $9,752.27 per pupil in Champaign Unit 4 Schools.  Why, Champaign-Urbana?  How?

I don’t know, maybe it’s because the problem seems like it’s too big to fix, maybe we feel disempowered by the system, or maybe we create a convenient political stance that allows us to retreat into complacency (that whole schools-should-be-able-to-do-more-with-less spiel that I hear from time to time). There could be a thousand different reasons for our choice to shrink into mediocrity, but none of them are valid. We have allowed our school system fall into disrepair while reserving our indignity and disguist for high profile, low impact scandals – for this we have no excuse. The real reason the U of I accepts fewer and fewer local students every year has nothing to do with clout and it’s high time that we accept that. It’s time that we push ourselves to admit that our students are no less intelligent than New Trier students, and accept the idea that we as a community have been outright failing them.

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