Clout Student One

Connected student's rejection reversed in 2002

The equivalent of Patient Zero in the University of Illinois clout scandal was identified on Monday by a former admissions employee as a student who was originally denied entry into the school in 2002 who then gained admittance anyway because of ties to former Gov. Jim Thompson.

Abel Montoya, the former employee making the allegation, told a state commission that the incident resulted in the formalization of a system for tracking clout students, the Tribune reports.

Thompson told the paper he didn't remember the student or the incident.

"While Thompson said he has never interceded in the admissions process on behalf of a relative at the University of Illinois, he added that he has written scores of letters over the past half-century on behalf of applicants to the U. of I. and other universities," the Tribune reports.

"It's part of the business of being a lawyer or [being] in public life," he said. "I don't have any clout or influence at any school. I just write the letter."

Which begs the question: If he doesn't have any influence, why write the letters?

"Montoya testified that some applications were put into the 'I' or 'important' category, regardless of test scores and GPA, after a phone call or letter was received in support of that applicant," the Illinois Radio Network reports. "Montoya said the support could be from politicians, important alumni, and major donors."

Montoya said it was his job to track the list, which in recent years numbered about 150 names, "most from affluent high schools in the Chicago suburbs," AP reports.

Because sometimes it's not enough to have every advantage in life.

"Montoya said there were between a dozen and 20 applicants a year who received the lowest possible admissions ranking, yet had denial decisions reversed after pressure from above," the Tribune reports.

The commission, formed by Gov. Pat Quinn, is expected to issue a report in August.

Steve Rhodes is the proprietor of The Beachwood Reporter, a Chicago-centric news and culture review.

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