Illinois Public Media News
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.
The University of Illinois' monthly gauge of economic performance has hit its lowest point since it was established 14 years ago.
But the author of the Flash Index says the current recession still hasn't reached the depths of the early 1980's economic slowdown. Economist Fred Giertz also says there are promising signs that the recession may be approaching an end, perhaps by the end of the year. Even so, Giertz says statistics before then are bound to get slightly worse.
"Some of the things that go into the Index don't turn around very rapidly," says Giertz, "in particular, employment, which has a lot to do with the individual income tax collections. So this is not a surprise. I think the only surprise would be that it went down a little bit more than might be expected."
The U of I Flash Index measures Illinois tax proceeds to evaluate the state of the economy. With any number above 100 suggesting economic growth, the June rate checked in at only 92. That's more than two points lower than May.
A new one-cent sales tax to fund school facilities will take effect in Champaign County next year. The Champaign County Board voted Thursday night to ratify the tax which voters approved in April.
County Board members did not have to enact the full one cent sales tax approved by voters. And county board member Stan James suggested a lower amount. In light of the bad economy, the Rantoul Township Republican said school districts should settle for a quarter-cent sales tax instead. "They can always come back and ask for more if the need is there", said James. "But now's the wrong time to send a message to people that are out there hurting that we're going to raise their taxes."
But the County Board voted down that suggestion. Urbana Democrat Tom Betz, who says he opposes sales taxes in general, argued the county board should heed the will of the voters --- even though the referendum won with a lower voter turnout than the first unsuccessful referendum in November. "Those votes need to count," said Betz of the April referendum result. "And the ballot proposition said 'at one percent'. It didn't say 'at a quarter percent', it said 'one percent'. It was promoted as one percent."
School officials attending the county board meeting say they'll use part of the sales tax money to pay off existing construction debt and lower property taxes. Urbana School Board President John Dimit says he expects all school boards in the county to spend the sales tax money quote "exactly how we promised the voters".
A writer following trends in higher education says the Chicago Tribune reports of a 'clout list' of University of Illinois students admitted via political connections will no doubt yield inquiries at other institutions. But senior reporter Eric Hoover with the Washington-based Chronicle of Higher Education says the issue isn't too far removed from what happens elsewhere. AM 580's Jeff Bossert spoke with Hoover:
An outdoor art installation about Native American history on the University of Illinois Urbana campus vandlized again over the weekend. The director of the U of I's Native American House says it's the 7th attack on the art work.
The latest attack on the exhibit occurred late Friday night to the series of signs created by Native American Artist Edgar Heap of Birds. One sign was bent, and two signs --- directly in front of the campus' Native American House were stolen.
The installation is titled "Beyond the Chief", in reference to Chief Illiniwek, the longtime university symbol which was officially retired a couple of years ago amidst great controversy. The signs in the installation list various Native American tribes as playing "host" to the Fighting Illini --- except that the Fighting Illini name is printed backwards. Native American House director Robert Warrior says the signs pay tribute to tribes that once lived in Illinois, but were forced to leave by the federal government.
Warrior adds that if the attacks on the art installation are because of the Chief Illiniwek controversy, then it's an embarrassment for the university community. "I understand there are people in this community who continue to be upset that the university retired its former mascot," says Warrior. "And it's certainly their right to be upset. I fail to see how it is their right to engage in criminal actions against an art exhibit that seeks to be part of an education enterprise on an educational campus."
Warrior says the two signs that were stolen paid tribute to the Ho-Chunk and Peoria tribes. The Peoria tribe --- once in Illinois but now located in Oklahoma --- is the modern remnant of the Illini Confederation, which the name Chief Illiniwek refers to.
The repeated attacks on the "Beyond the Chief" installation began in March. U of I Police say they have surveillance video of the latest act of vandalism, which will be posted on their website. the video shows a college-age white male, wearing dark-colored shorts and a T-shirt. Sgt. Tony Brown says anyone with information about the attacks should call U of I Police at 217-333-1216 or contact Champaign County Crimestoppers at 217-373-TIPS or online at http://www.champaigncountycrimestoppers.com/ .
Updated: June 16, 2009
The first part of what will become a solar house will be delivered to the University of Illinois' Urbana campus today.
Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Patrick Chapman says students have so far designed the 'shell' of the Gable Home. That was put together by a builder in Goodfield, and is now coming to campus for students in engineering and architecture to finish details like painting, cabinets, heating and air conditioning, as well as special equipment like the solar array. Chapman says the house was designed specifically for Central Illinois. "This particular house has what's called super insulated walls, very specially designed windows, and so forth," says Chapman. "So you get free heating in the winter and free cooling in the summer, in effect. And according to my calculations, it only would take $75 worth of electricity to heat and cool the house for the entire year."
The passive house was also designed with the region in mind - reclaiming wood from dilapidated barns. It will be moving again this fall. The students will be taking the Gable Home to the 2009 Solar Decathlon in Washington, DC in October. There, the house will be judged in 10 different areas of competition, including energy balance, comfort, lighting, and architecture. The U of I will be competing against 19 other schools. But the resting place for the Gable Home for the next few months will be south of the ACES library on South Goodwin Avenue in Urbana.
A teachers' union is taking issue with its district's policy requiring them to do medical procedures they say school nurses should provide.
The Mahomet-Seymour Education Association has been pressuring the school board to sit down and negotiate a protocol for those procedures - some students, especially those with special needs, sometimes require catheterizations, shots and other needs. But 5th grade teacher Linda Meachum says school nurses aren't dispatched to do those tasks, and it's been up to teachers.
"We should hire additional medically licensed personnel to take care of all students' medical needs," Meachum said. "No other staff member, as a condition of their job, should be required to perform medical procedures."
Mahomet Seymour superintendent Keith Oates has been unavailable for comment - he has said in the past that teachers have always been asked to change catheters, and the policy is not new. The union is demanding that medical procedures be negotiated, and they may file an unfair labor practice claim if the district doesn't bargain. Mahomet-Seymour's current teachers' contract expires next year.
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