Illinois Public Media News
A University of Illinois trustee expected to face scrutiny today over admissions now may hear questions about how his son-in-law landed a six-figure job with the school.
The Chicago Tribune reports that trustee Niranjan Shah used his position in 2007 to help find his then-future son-in-law a job. Shah says he encouraged the university to hire Maarten de Jeu after he graduated first in his MBA class at Oxford University.
University Chancellor Richard Herman says the school created a $115,000 job for de Jeu in a business-consulting office. He left the university after 10 months. That's six months after he married Shah's daughter. Shah is scheduled to appear this afternoon before the commission examining the admission of politically connected applicants at the university.
The approval of state capital money for a student services center at Parkland College means administrators will start exploring other sources to complete the facility.
The chairman of the college's board of Trustees, Jim Ayers, says the building is much larger in scope and size than when originally conceived more than 15 years ago as part of a Campus Master Plan. The state is expected to fund roughly half of the center's cost... or $15 million. The rest would likely be sought through a combination of student fee hikes and a referendum. Ayers says such a center is now looked upon as more than a place for students to register for classes and discuss financial aid.
"I think we anticipate the Foundation is going to move there, a restaurant and hospitality program will be put in there someplace, and a wide variety of activites will all be brought under the umbrella of student services," says Ayers. Parkland Vice President of Student Services Linda Moore says having a student center would also free up existing offices for instructional space. While there's no timetable for building such a facility, Ayers says Parkland would likely decide by this fall on a plan to fund the building's remaining cost.
Ayers holds out hope that federal money could be a part of that as well. He cites comments made Tuesday by President Barack Obama, who wants to pump $12 billion dollars into the nation's community colleges, including $2.5 billion for construction.
University of Illinois trustee Lawrence Eppley says he never forced politically connected students to be admitted to the Champaign-Urbana campus.
Eppley told a special commission he passed along between 5 and 10 names per year for special consideration. He says about half those came from staffers in former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's office.
Eppley says he thought passing the names on was "benign." University employees have testified that they considered inquiries from the trustees to be "directives."
Eppley says he now understands there were problems with the unofficial inquiries that he says functioned as an "underground recommendation system.''
Eppley says the state commission is needed to "fix'' the clout list. Gov. Pat Quinn formed the commission to investigate whether special treatment was given to politically connected applicants, known as "Category I.''
After the Chicago Tribune reported on the "Category I'' list in May, the university suspended it.
(Additional reporting by The Associated Press)
For a fifth straight year, a history education project headed up by the Urbana school district is getting a million-dollar federal grant.
The American History Teachers Collaborative is aimed at giving teachers the research time and resources they need to paint a more realistic and gripping picture of history in their classrooms.
The group's coordinator, Kathy Barbour, says when teachers conduct their own research, they can teach their students about national history through a local lens.
"For the teachers to be able to bring newspaper articles or photographs or documents or letters from right here in central Illinois and bring those to their classrooms, it's a very powerful thing for the students to be able to see that history happens here and we're tied to the bigger picture," Barbour said.
For instance, Barber says teachers have found articles and other documents about events in Champaign County that illustrate the national civil rights movement. She says the money helps fund workshops for teachers in seven area districts as well as research trips to museums.
Four former presidents and chancellors of the University of Illinois are calling for a change in how members are appointed to the university's board of trustees.
The four, led by former U of I president Stanley Ikenberry, made their recommendation in a letter to the Illinois Admissions Review Commission, which is investigating charges that under-qualified students gained admission based on political influence. In many cases, the pressure to admit the students came from trustees.
Ikenberry says that the roots of the problem lie in having all university trustees selected by the governor. "I think that makes the university vulnerable," he says, "and I think it removes the checks and balances that would otherwise be important to healthy university governance."
In the letter, Ikenberry, former president James Stukel and former Urbana campus chancellors Morton Weir and Michael Aiken suggest a long-term solution. They argue that the U of I Alumni Association should elect six of the nine trustees on the U of I board in a "fair and transparent" manner, with only three selected by the governor. Ikenberry says many universities, such as Penn State, give alumni associations such appointment powers.
The Admissions Review Commission was scheduled to hear from three U of I trustees Tuesday afternoon --- David Dorris, Kenneth Schmidt and former chairman Lawrence Eppley.
Garden Hills Elementary School gets the fine arts magnet. Booker T. Washington Elementary School gets the science and math magnet. Those are the recommendations the Champaign School Board approved Monday night for the two schools slated for major renovations.
The Magnet School Planning Committee started developing the recommendations in March. Deputy Superintendent for Student Achievement and Equity Dorland Norris said the committee looked for themes that would be a good match for each school and would attract diverse families.
Norris said the administration's plan to move the Transitional Bilingual Education program from BTWashington School to the larger Garden Hills School was one reason the committee picked the fine arts theme for Garden Hills. She says foreign languages will be a major part of the offerings in the Garden Hills fine arts magnet program.
Garden Hills is being extensively renovated and BTWashington is being completely rebuilt. Both schools will get additional classrooms to meet requirements of the Consent Decree.
The state commission that's investigating allegations that political clout was used to get underqualified students into the University of Illinois is meeting again.
The commission will meet Wednesday in Chicago.
Governor Pat Quinn formed the panel last month to look into the university's admissions system after word of the use of clout first surfaced in the Chicago Tribune. The commission is led by former federal Judge Abner Mikva and is due to issue a report next month.
Among those scheduled to testify is Heidi Hurd, former dean of the College of Law. She's now a law professor.
During testimony Monday, an assistant dean said that over four years, the university forced the law school to accept 24 students with political connections who wouldn't have been admitted otherwise.
UPDATED: Tuesday, July 07, 2009
The Chancellor of the University of Illinois's flagship campus in Champaign-Urbana admitted his role Monday in getting politically connected applicants accepted to the school.
Testifying in Chicago before the Illinois Admissions Review Commission, Chancellor Richard Herman said the university should abolish its practice of admitting students based on clout.
Herman said he typically got 40 recommendations a year-most of them from trustees. He admits he was often the one with the final say over whether politically connected students were admitted. In one instance, Herman a trustee passed along a request to admit a student from then Governor Rod Blagojevich.
"Did I follow that directive?", said Herman. "Yes. That was a rough 24-hour period for me personally, and I am apologetic about it."
Herman said he wanted to "compensate" the law school for taking the trustee's "dicey" student. So he asked the trustee to find five jobs for graduating law school students. But Herman denies any quid pro quo.
The chancellor said he believed at the time that admitting the students would help the U of I, by showing they were being responsive.
Commissioner Maribeth Vander Weele wanted to know who the university was being responsive to. "By donors? By legislators? By the governor's office?", she asked.
"I suppose the answer to that would be yes", Herman replied.
But Commission Chairman Abner Mikva said the "responsiveness" might look very different to an Illinois resident whose own child was denied admission to the U of I, while the child of someone with an inferior record but superior clout was let in.
"Wouldn't you be very upset?", asked Mikva, asking Herman to put himself in that resident's shoes.
"I think that is really the reason for this hearing, sir, and I would be," said Herman.
"Especially since you know your tax money was paying at least 18 percent of that university's bills", continued Mikva.
"Agreed, sir," replied Herman.
Herman testified in Chicago, before the commission, which was set up by Governor Pat Quinn to investigate the role political influence played in student admissions to the University of Illinois.
After his testimony, a reporter asked Herman if he felt his job was on the line, "I feel I can continue to go forward," said the chancellor. "I feel I, others perhaps, but I made some mistakes --- from which I've learned."
Herman says he now supports an end to the U of I's so-called "Category I" list of politically connected students --- a list which the university has already put on suspension. He also promises to enact reforms such as requiring all requests on applicants' behalf to be made in writing.
The Admissions Review Commission is due to issue its report next month.
School officials in Champaign County have identified 355 homeless children attending local public schools --- mostly in the Champaign and Urbana districts. A government grant pays for their textbook fees and other charges. Now a private grant will provide money for emergency situations.
Champaign-Urbana Schools Foundation Executive Director Gail Rost says resolving emergency problems are key to keeping homeless kids in school --- and that's the first step to a good education. "So if there's a child whose family has slept in the rest stop and doesn't have a coat, we can buy that coat", explains Rost.
The United Way of Champaign County is providing 6-thousand dollars a year for two years to pay for the emergency needs of homeless schoolchildren. But Rost fears that may not be enough. She says the money they sought was meant to pay for the needs of about 200 school children, and their number has grown about 75-percent since the application was made. Rost says that with 355 homeless schoolchildren in Champaign County, the United Way grant amounts to "less than 20 dollars a kid" per year.
The Champaign-Urbana Schools Foundation teamed up with the Regional Office of Education of Champaign and Ford Counties to apply for the grant. School social workers who identify emergency needs can draw on the grant funds through the R-O-E.
Three of the six elementary schools in the Urbana School District failed to achieve Adequate Yearly Progress, under the No Child Left Behind Act.
Leal, Yankee Ridge and Thomas Paine Schools achieved the standard overall, but not for the subgroup of Economically Disadvantaged Students. To make the grade this year, 70 percent of students in each school and each subgroup had to meet or exceed state exam standards.
District 116 Assistant Superintendent Don Owen says the schools came close --- and better test scores from less than 20 students would have brought the three schools up to the federal standard.
"We're going to take a very active role with the three elementary schools that did not make AYP, to make sure that their School Improvement Plans are really focused on closing achievement gaps," says Owen.
Leal, Yankee Ridge and Thomas Paine Schools do not face any sanctions, because this is the first year they've fallen short of federal standards.
Wiley, Prairie and Martin Luther King Schools in Urbana all made Adequate Yearly Progress, as did Urbana Middle School. District 116 officials are still waiting for the results from exams at Urbana High School.
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