The Tribune's investigation of admissions at the University of Illinois, "State of Corruption: Clout Goes to College," reminds me of an old-fashioned hybrid car -- the gas in the tank goes only so far, and to go the rest of the way you get out and push.
Consider Tuesday's installment in the month-long series, typically positioned on page one. The pushy headline, "How U. of I. scheme began," promises an origins story that reveals how and why the corruption took root. But the story falls short. It's simply an account of the unverified testimony of Abel Montoya, a former admissions director, to the commission investigating the university's admissions practices. Motoya's story implicates former governor Jim Thompson and the former director of undergraduate admissions, Martha Moore, but both these officials tell the paper they don't know what Montoya's talking about.
The Tribune investigation, though interesting and entertaining, has been tainted by a disingenuousness that would have embarrassed the old Tribune. We are asked to be shocked and appalled that admissions procedures at Illinois' top state university aren't always on the square, that clout and money sometimes play an ugly hand.
Well, yes. But we aren't naive and the Tribune isn't either. On June 25 it carried a short article on tuition increases at the Urbana-Champaign campus. There was this passage:
"Lawmakers have not approved next year's state budget, a draft of which includes $756 million for the U. of I.... The university's total budget is $4.1 billion."
In other words, about 18 percent of the money in the university's budget will come from the state. For the other $3.3 billion it'll have to wheel and deal and make Faustian bargains with potentially deep-pocketed benefactors just like every private school does.
And on the other hand, that $756 million is nothing to sneeze at and it's not guaranteed. So the school has to play ball with Springfield too.
But this is a story on which the Tribune has decided it's better to look splenetic than worldly. On Sunday the Tribune treated its readers to some robust spleen-venting in the form of a front-page editorial. The headline: "U. of I.'s cynical breach of public trust."
The language: "specter of public corruption...increasingly infuriating scandal...betrayal of the public trust...identify the schemers...lost whatever last shred of credibility...cynical game...officials who swam in this sewer..."
Dogs that foam at the mouth this way are put to sleep.