UChicago Allegedly Favored Donors’ Children for Internship Funding As Students in Need Were Turned Away

Leaked e-mails show that administrators wanted to strengthen ties between the University and its donors.

Eric Allix Rogers/Flickr

A UChicago Career Advancement staff member was instructed by her boss in 2016 to contact a list of students related to Career Advancement donors and employers, to make them aware of an opportunity for internship funding, while other funding requests from students with financial need were allegedly being denied.

The staff member was asked to contact the students in 2016, according to e-mails provided to The Maroon by the now-former staff member. The source came forward in light of the national discussion on advantages for wealthy students in higher education.

The e-mails referred to the students—relatives of donors and executives of companies affiliated with Career Advancement—as “Special Interest Case” (SIC) students. The source said that SIC students also include those affiliated with top University administrators.

The University had received additional funding for internships, and it wanted to encourage SIC students to take advantage of the funding in part to encourage their relatives to continue providing support for Career Advancement programs, an e-mail from Deputy Director of Career Advancement Rachael Ward explaining the outreach effort shows.

“It’s important that these students have a good Career Advancement experience, so we can continue to build our relationship with the employers and donors associated with them,” Ward e-mailed the former employee.

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Ward wrote that the goal of the outreach to SIC students was to “capture these students’ plans” and to “ensure that we can communicate we have done everything we can [to] ensure that these students engage with us, so we can continue to receive this type of support.”

Ward e-mailed the employee asking her to contact students on the SIC list who the employee had previously met, so that the outreach about available funding could be as personalized as possible. The source declined the request, saying that she was uncomfortable with trying to allocate funds for the internship opportunities to privileged students while other students in need were not receiving full funding.

“I had students who are first-gen, members of minoritized groups, working really hard to land jobs. So it was really frustrating to have to hand out funding to students who already came from privilege and wealth,” the source said in an interview Wednesday, echoing an e-mail she wrote at the time to Ward explaining her discomfort with the request.

Ward responded expressing her disappointment with the source’s unwillingness to help with the outreach. In the e-mail, Ward mentioned a meeting where Meredith Daw, the director of Career Advancement, had stressed the importance of maintaining close relationships with parents of SIC students.

“Many of these students’ parents are important supporters’ of Career Advancement, not just financially, but often connecting students to opportunities at their organizations,” Ward wrote.

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The source said she was motivated to share the e-mails in part by the FBI’s prosecution earlier this week of parents who used their wealth to get their children admitted to elite schools across the country. She wanted people to realize how influential the wealthy and powerful are in higher education.

“I realized people don’t see this is how higher education is run,” she told The Maroon. “I had documentation to show this practice, so I felt like I could make things clearer,” she said. “I love the University of Chicago; I loved working with students in the College, my colleagues were amazing…. I sincerely hope that others will speak up because I think these kinds of actions by leadership are not reflective of the values of other staff or students of the College.”

The University said in a statement that the specific funding “was promoted to eligible students through multiple channels, including more than 20 email list hosts, the Career Advancement website, and Handshake.”

The University also said that outreach about new funding opportunities is routine, but declined to address questions about whether the upper administration was aware of targeted outreach to SICs.

“Opportunities for internship funding are open to all students, with additional consideration given to students who qualify for financial aid. All hiring decisions are made by employers, not the Career Advancement office,” the statement continues. “Career Advancement routinely informs students when new funding opportunities are available. As this email from 2016 reflects, notifications about such opportunities typically go to a wide range of students who have had contact with Career Advancement. All College students in their first through third years are eligible for such opportunities. Our processes are designed to ensure that access to funding is fair and prioritizes students with the greatest financial need.”

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The University noted that many of its paid internships go to Odyssey scholars who are guaranteed paid internships for the summer after their first year. UChicago said that Career Advancement offers more than 2,600 paid Metcalf internships, which it said is “substantially more than most universities.”

Euirim Choi (@euirim) is the Co-Editor-in-Chief of The Maroon. He is a fourth-year in the College studying Computer Science and Economics.

Pete Grieve (@pete_grieve) is the Co-Editor-in-Chief of The Maroon. A fourth-year in the College, he is studying Political Science.