Illinois Public Media News
The Champaign School Board passed resolutions, and introduced new policies last (Monday) night related to the recently concluded Consent Decree for racial equity.
The school board had promised to enact the resolutions and policies as part of its settlement with the Consent Decree plaintiffs. And Unit Four spokeswoman Beth Shepperd says board members are keeping their word.
"It means that our board is committed to equity and excellence for all students, and that we don't require court oversight to do what we believe is right," Sheppard said. "We want to show the community that we mean what we say."
The resolutions were passed unanimously. One reasserts Unit Four's commitment to the Consent Decree promise of adding new classrooms on Champaign's north side. The other resolution promises to continue the Academic Academy alternative program for at least two more years.
The policy proposals commit Unit Four to equity in its special education program, and in deciding school opening and closings. There will also be a new committee to monitor the school district's success in providing equity in education. The Champaign school board votes on the policy questions next month, after a 30-day public comment period.
The Admission Review Commission's final report points to the practices of another U of I school as a guide to how political clout can be taken out of the process.
It says the College of Medicine received letters of interest from trustees or political leaders over at least six prospective students in the last six years, but none were admitted and the inquiries didn't affect the integrity of the process. Dean Joe Flaherty says the faculty committee that chooses med students is not accessible to outside influence - not even his.
"I couldn't get one of my own kids admitted even if I wanted to, which I wouldn't of course do it that way," Flaherty said. "They see all the grades, the scores, all the non-cognitive evaluations, everything that comes in. They make their decisions collectively every month. There isn't a way of sneaking a candidate in from the outside."
The report quotes Flaherty as telling inquiring trustees who asked about students that admitting people with political favor of any kind is the third rail of medical school.
University of Illinois President Joseph White says university officials will be meeting in Urbana next Wednesday, to decide how best to implement the recommendations of a state panel that investigated the school's admissions process.
In a news conference Thursday , White said he embraced the report's recommendations, and wanted to use next week's conference set the path for making the University of Illinois "the national leader in quality admissions process".
"I think that's the opportunity that has been literally handed to us by this painful chapter," says White. "Things went wrong in our admissions process. It is an opportunity for us, first, to fix the problems and then to set the standard with news."
White responded to a report that found unqualified students were admitted to the U of I because of political connections. Those students were followed by use of a shadow tracking system called Category I. White says the use of Category I is ended immediately.
The newest University of Illinois trustee has become the third to step down in recent days.
Greenville businessman Ed McMillan has only been on the board since May, but he submitted his resignation letter to Governor Pat Quinn Thursday, saying he wanted to comply with the recommendations of the Governor's Admissions Review Commission. McMillan says it's in his judgment that the most important thing is to put in place people, policies, and a culture that will let the U of I start regaining the confidence of the people.
But McMillan says he would like to continue in the role of Trustee if the governor sees him fit. "If I can, in his judgment play a role in developing a strong plan for the future, I stand ready to continue in the role that he originally intended when he nominated me," says McMillan. "But if not, I will support his decision. I stand ready to help the future leaders of the university move forward in a positive and progressive direction." Like the recent resignations of Trustees Lawrence Eppley and Naranjan Shah, McMillan's is effective in 90 days, or when a successor is found. At this point, McMillan says Governor Quinn will take good counsel from the recommendations made by the commission.
Organizers of the UC2B Big Broadband project are hurrying to get their applications for state and federal funding in on time --- now that those applications have won the backing of both the Champaign and Urbana city councils. The state grant application is due Wednesday, August 6th, and the federal grant application must be submitted by August 14th.
The state and federal funds are aimed at providing affordable Internet service in low-income and underserved areas of town. But backers say the UC2B project will serve the whole community --- and attract businesses that want access to its high-capacity network.
That's an important point for Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart. He asked UC2B organizer Mike Smeltzer whether the project would add value to the community in the eyes of prospective businesses. Smeltzer said one place that would receive added value would be the University of Illinois Research Park. He says the Research Park already has a high-capacity fiber-optic connection --- but that businesses want a second one as a precaution.
"There are companies moving to the Research Park that talk to (developer) Peter Fox, and they say, 'hey, do you guys have redundant fiber?'", explains Smeltzer. "And he has to say, 'no we don't. We have a single path of fiber'. This (UC2B) would give redundant fiber for the Research Park."
Champaign Council members voted 9-0 to endorse the UC2B grant applications Tuesday night. They're committing up to 920-thousand dollars in matching funds for UC2B. The Urbana City Council voted Monday to commit up to 567-thousand dollars. Both councils also voted to form a consortium with the University of Illinois to oversee the project. UC2B organizers says they'll know by fall if the project has won federal funding.
A spokesman for the University of Illinois says the school respects the decision of the chairman of its Board of Trustees to resign. Thomas Hardy said today that the school appreciates the service of Niranjan Shah, who resigned in a letter today to Gov. Pat Quinn amid an investigation into the use of political clout to get underqualified students into the school. Quinn says he's accepted Shah's resignation and a search for a replacement will begin immediately.
Shah says he decided to quit after members of a state commission investigating university admissions practices said they think the trustees should step down. In his letter, Shah said 'I am not in public service for self-aggrandizement and therefore have no interest in a protracted process regarding my role. My interest is solely in the vitality of the University of Illinois.' Shah is the second trustee to resign. Former chairman Lawrence Eppley quit last week.
Shah says his resignation is effective in 90 days or sooner if his successor is in place.
The Consent Decree --- which for eight years dictated how the Champaign school district should address racial disparities in education --- is being lifted. The school board and attorneys for the plaintiffs reached an agreement yesterday (Wednesday) that's meant to lift the financial burdens of the consent decree, while keeping its accomplishments in place.
The Unit Four School Board ratified the settlement agreement on a 6 to nothing vote last night. And that gave Board President Dave Tomlinson the chance to say something he had been waiting to say for a long time.
"With this agreement, all court and attorney oversight for the decree has ended," Tomlinson announced to reporters following the school board meeting. "Unit Four has satisfied all of the requirements of the decree, and all motions to extend the decree will be dropped,"
Attorneys for the plaintiffs had filed motions seeking the extension of the Consent Decree on three issues --- north side classrooms, special education and alternative education. But plaintiffs' attorney Carol Ashley says the extension is no longer needed, because the settlement agreement commits Unit Four to several measures meant to follow-up on those issues --- from an equity policy committee to review the district's progress, to passage of board resolutions confirming plans for the additional classrooms.
Plaintiffs attorney Carol Ashley has worked on the case since the first civil rights complaints were filed 13 years ago. The Consent Decree agreed to in 2002 kept those complaints from going to trial, and Ashley says that was the best solution for all concerned.
"These are difficult issues to deal with, states Ashley. "But the collaborative process used int his case I think was beneficial to African American students, and to the community at large, and to the school district."
The settlement agreement means that a federal court hearing on the Consent Decree set for August 3rd in Peoria will not need to be held.
University of Illinois Trustee David Dorris says he's ready to step down from the board, as Lawrence Eppley did yesterday (Tues) amid the school's admission scandal. But Dorris says his resignation and more need to be accompanied by a concrete plan from Governor Pat Quinn for filling the vacant board seats. The Bloomington attorney says wants to hear from the Governor about keeping a quorum on the board so it can make university decisions. And Dorris says the publicity garnered by the admission of politically-connected applicants has been too connected to the trustees, which he says was responsible for a small portion of the so-called 'Category I' list. Dorris suggests that U of I President Joseph White resign over the admissions scandal, and that the university implement a defined admissions policy.
"We need an ombudsman that's effective that can give the public answers where we can refer them to when we get inquiries,' says Dorris. "We'll say look, here's who you call, you'll get an answer. That was not in place during the time that I was a Trustee. When we would get inquiries or questions about admssions, I was told the procedure we use was that inquiries you get, refer them to (Chancellor) Richard Herman."
Dorris defends Chancellor Herman, who says the volume of inquiries he received was unfair. He also suggests the U of I implement a code of conduct for Trustees, and a way to discipline those who interfere with an administrator's ability to do their job. As for selecting future trustees, Dorris suggests the university put together an independent organization to examine records of candidates, and name them to the board. He's not in favor of plan that would allow the U of I's Alumni Association to select six trustees, saying they would wield too much power.
The Champaign School Board is holding a special meeting tonight, July 29th, to vote on a settlement of the Consent Decree for racial equity. The meeting is scheduled for 7 PM at the Mellon Administrative Center, 703 South New Street in Champaign.
School Board President Dave Tomlinson says representatives of both Unit Four and plaintiffs in the case reached an agreement at a settlement conference Tuesday to end the Consent Decree immediately. Details are to be released at a news conference at 8 PM, pending school board approval of the agreement.
The Unit Four school board agreed to the Consent Decree in 2001, to avoid a civil rights lawsuit on charges that African-American students were not receiving the same quality of education as white students. Besides changes in how classes are taught, and students assigned to schools, the Consent Decree has cost Unit Four millions of dollars in legal and consulting fees. School District officials were anxious to have the decree expire as scheduled this summer. But attorneys for the plaintiffs had been pushing for a partial extension.
For nearly two years, about 70 University of Illinois faculty and administrators have been evaluating the university's academic quality - now it's time for the public to have their say.
Every ten years the U of I and other colleges go through an accreditation process, along with nearly every other grade, middle and high school in the state. That U of I faculty and staff committee reports its findings to the Higher Learning Commission North Central Association, which makes the final decision on accreditation. But before that decision, anyone who wants to can submit their comments on the university's operations.
Vice provost Richard Wheeler says accreditation ensures students and the community that the U of I is meeting its mission. "They (the accreditation committee) actually have free range to look at anything that's going on here, and we are a research university, so our report is among other things devoted to making it clear that we have a very strong research environment here," Wheeler said. "But their concerns are more likely to be focused on undergraduate education."
Wheeler says the North Central Association has accredited the U of I since 1913, though ten years ago it hesitated over concerns about how the university was handling the Chief Illiniwek controversy.
People can submit their comments in writing to Public Comment on University of Illinois, The Higher Learning Commission, 30 N. LaSalle St., Suite 2400, Chicago IL 60602.
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