In Admissions, the Powerful Weigh In

Last spring, Brent W. Sembler saw an opening that might help him land a big gift.

As he had done many times before, the Florida State University trustee sent a query to Janice V. Finney, longtime director of admissions. Was this student, who had been denied in December, perhaps "admissible?" Mr. Sembler asked.

"Here’s why I’m asking," the trustee wrote in an email. The student’s "family is capable of funding our new Business School!"

With a core grade-point average below 3.0, Ms. Finney said, fall admission was not possible. But she would "work with him for January."

The trustee wrote back, beaming: "That’s one of the things I LOVE about you! I’m workin it HARD!"

Ms. Finney, a 1975 graduate of Florida State, said in a recent interview that she would have made similar accommodations for any student who truly wanted to be a Seminole. But Ms. Finney’s exchange with Mr. Sembler highlights a delicate and potentially fraught dynamic, in which the most powerful people at a public university sometimes insert themselves into the admissions process.

Stories of admissions advantages for the nation’s power elite are nothing new, and individual cases of apparent favoritism are often met with shrugs. In recent years, however, disclosures of preferential treatment for connected students at the flagship campuses ofIllinois and Texas have struck particularly sour notes, feeding perceptions that the system remains rigged for a privileged few.

Read more at The Chronicle of Higher Education: http://chronicle.com/article/In-Admissions-the-Powerful/234368