Illinois Public Media News
One of the key figures in the uproar over the role of political influence at the University of Illinois is resigning. University trustee Lawrence Eppley said Tuesday in a letter to Governor Pat Quinn that he will step down from the board that oversees the school's three campuses.
In a statement, Governor Quinn says he accepts Eppley's resignation, and thanks him for his years of service. He says a search for his successor will begin immediately. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the resignation letter, and reports that Eppley writes that fellow trustees should step down as well. He also calls on unnamed school administrators to accept their share of responsibility for the admissions uproar.
Eppley was first appointed to the the U of I board in 2001 and later served for a time as chairman. Eppley sent e-mails to the university noting Blagojevich's support for students applying to the school. Eppley says he'll leave in 90 days or when someone is appointed to replace him.
Eppley resignation comes a day after two former U of I presidents, James Stukel and Stanley Ikenberry, called on some or most trustees to be removed, in testimony to the Illinois Admissions Review Commission. Stukel named Eppley as one of three trustees who should be removed. Ikenberry, reached for comment Tuesday, said he had no comment on Eppley's resignation. Admissions Review Commission Chairman, Abner Mikva, said Tuesday he had just learned of Eppley's announcement, and could not comment at this time. A copy of the letter can be accessed below.
Additional reporting from The Associated Press Letter.Eppley_.PDF
Representatives of the Champaign Unit Four School District and the plaintiffs in its consent decree meet this morning in Peoria to discuss a possible settlement.
School Board President Dave Tomlinson says such meetings are common prior to a court hearing. He says it gives both parties a chance to reach an amicable agreement out of court. However, Tomlinson says if any proposals about the Consent Decree come about, they won't come from the school district.
"The plaintiff's wouldn't be making any offers to settle so the district's not making any offers to settle. We're certainly willing to hear those offers if there are some made," Tomlinson said.
Neither Tomlinson or Plaintiffs attorney Carol Ashley would comment on whether attorneys for the plaintiffs will make any proposals at the settlement conference. But Tomlinson has called two special school board meetings --- for Tuesday and Wednesday nights --- to discuss the Consent Decree behind closed doors. The federal court hearing on the Consent Decree is scheduled for next week.
The Consent Decree on racial equity was due to expire this summer, but attorneys for the Plaintiffs want to extend it in three areas --- special education, alternative education and new classrooms on Champaign's north side. They say Unit Four has not made sufficient or fast enough progress in those areas. The school district says they've made progress and that any efforts that fell short were still made in good faith.
The governor's panel investigating politically-tainted admissions at the University of Illinois convened at the school's Urbana campus yesterday --- and heard from 30 years worth of leadership. University President Joseph White vowed to end the use of a so-called 'clout list' of politically connected applicants --- and set up a strict code of conduct for the admissions process. Meanwhile, the two men who served as president blamed the scandal on a politicized board of trustees --- and said at least some of the trustees should be removed. AM 580's Jeff Bossert reports on the day-long testimony before the Illinois Admissions Review Commission:
Members of the Admissions Review Commission have at least one more hearing before they write their recommendations to Governor Pat Quinn.
Retired Judge Abner Mikva heads the commission. He says any report will have to be a consensus of the seven com missioners. He stops short of saying the report could recommend the firing of trustees or administrators.
"Our mission is to do something about the admissions process,and I think one of our jobs in writing the report is not to stray...that we have no power beyond that was given to us by the executive order, Mikva said after the hearing. "I think that we ought to make sure that we're not trying to solve all the problems Illinois has. And I have quite a list!" Mikva joked.
Mikva says he was concerned by the presidents' comments that recent trustees considered the University as just another state agency, instead of an independent institution. He hopes U of I officials make policy changes that make people comfortable that admissions are based on merits.
The commission's next hearing is Wednesday - they're scheduled to hear from state senator Chris Lauzen of Aurora, but member Z Scott hopes other lawmakers agree to speak.
University of Illinois President Joseph White says it's no surprise that the university developed a 'Category I' list politically connected applicants for whom inquiries had been made by trustees and politicians.
But he told the Governor's Admissions Review Commission Monday in Urbana that he'd only recently heard of the list, and intends to kill it. White says flagged applications have been around a long time, but he was surprised that applicants he assumed had been rejected ended up being admitted.
White says the University should now take a leadership position on admissions --- one that bars top administrators from interfering in the admissions process. He says that policy would apply tio anyone above the level of dean, and include the Development and Government Relations offices.
"I think that in a year," says White, "we will know whether conventional wisdom is right, and we've really hurt ourselves in terms of donations and how legislators feel about it, et cetera."
During two hours of testimony... White did not make specific recommendations about the U of I Board of Trustees, some of whom had made inquiries on behalf of applicants.
But in testimony earlier in the day, U of I presidents James Stukel and Stanley Ikenberry both told the commission that the Governor should remove either some or nearly all members of the Board of Trustees. Stukel suggested that Board Chairman Naranjan Shah, trustee Robert Vickery, and former chairman Lawrence Eppley all be removed. Ikenberry suggested that all trustees be removed by Governor Pat Quinn with the exception of Ed McMillan, who was recently appointed by the governor. Quinn would then have the authority to interview and re-appoint trustees at his discretion.
University of Illinois trustees are conducting their own internal review of the influence of money and political power on student admissions.
At the start of their regular meeting in Chicago this morning, trustees said they plan to report their findings soon and offer improved admissions practices they can adopt. Several trustees have appeared this month before the state commission examining admissions at the school's Urbana campus.
Gov. Pat Quinn created the panel after news reports revealed the school maintains a list of politically connected applicants. Some of those applicants gained admission even though they were less qualified than other students who were turned away. The trustees' comment came in the form of a prepared statement.
Budget fears have prompted the University of Illinois to draft a furlough policy. Starting August 16th, school leaders will have the authority to require faculty and academic professionals to take unpaid time off. Employees were notified of the action by U of I's President and the chancellors of the Urbana-Champaign, Springfield and Chicago campuses Wednesday. University spokesman Tom Hardy stresses ... officials are not yet declaring furlough days. He says school leaders adopted the new policy as a contingency plan to control costs should U of I face a budget shortfall. He says there's a great deal of uncertainty about how much funding the university will receive from the state.
"We didn't have this tool to be able to deal with controlling costs in an economic or fiscal crisis. Now we have this ability to deal with anything that arises. And deal with it in a way that we see is very common practice now in public and private sectors," says Hardy. Hardy says officials will begin negotiations to create a permanent furlough policy. But the head of a group representing academic professionals at the U of I Urbana campus says she doesn't think that's a good idea. Jenny Barrett of the Association for Academic Professionals says unpaid furlough days should only be a temporary policy at times when the university faces financial risk. She says otherwise, the budget breaking point that would require furloughs could become vague and prone to misue.
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)
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