Retired federal judge Abner Mikva says he wants to bring some transparency to the admissions process at the University of Illinois, and ensure that students are admitted on merit and not "political clout". Mikva has been named by Governor Pat Quinn to chair a seven member commission to investigate U of I admission practices and issue a report in 60 days. The commission was formed after news reports revealed that some less-qualified students had been admitted because of political connections. Mikva talked with AM 580's Jim Meadows about the new commission and its goals.
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There are new signs that the University of Illinois' Lincoln Hall is going to get its long-awaited renovation soon.
Last fall the university decided to transfer all courses to other lecture halls. Now the process of moving offices out of the aging Lincoln Hall has begun, first with the political science department.
Matthew Tomaszewski is an assistant dean with the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, whose offices are also being moved out. He says now is the best time to vacate Lincoln Hall in case Governor Pat Quinn signs the capital bill on his desk - the bill that includes the bulk of the 57 million dollar project.
"This is our opportunity to vacate the building, said Tomaszewski. "If we don't vacate now and the money comes through, we're stuck because we can't move in the fall -- the students are back on campus, visiting offices; the faculty are engaged."
Tomaszewski says even though the capital bill hasn't been signed yet, the U of I will start removing asbestos from Lincoln Hall over the summer - it had committed to do so before the three-year renovation begins.
University of Illinois President Joseph White says he's receptive to an outside look at the U of I's admissions procedures.
But university spokesman Tom Hardy says until Governor Pat Quinn steps into the discussion over a list of prospective students who may have gotten improper admission assistance from political leaders, a task force announced last week will handle the task.
"If the Governor announces something that could work with that or separately or would supersede that, we'll certainly abide by whatever the governor's prerogative is," Hardy said.
Hardy says that task force would include people from outside the University, but critics say it wouldn't be a completely independent investigation. Monday night, President White told a Chicago TV interviewer that an investigation into the so-called "Category I" admission list should be as independent as possible.
U of I Police say they'll be increasing patrols on the east side of the Urbana campus, where an armed robbery took place late Saturday night.
The robbery took place Saturday at approximately 11:30 PM on Pennsylvania Avenue near the corner of Dorner. The suspect, who appeared to have a gun in his hand, demanded cash from his victim. After getting the money, the suspect fled on foot. The victim was not hurt.
Police are looking for a white male in his early 20s, 6-foot to 6-foot-4 in height, athletically built and clean-shaven. He was wearing a dark grey athletic sweat suit with the hood pulled over his head. Anyone with information about the case should contact U of I or Urbana Police, or Champaign County Crimestoppers.
In a news release, University Police Chief Barbara O'Connor outlined tips for preventing crimes, including keeping doors and windows locked ... using well-lit and busy sidewalks where possible ... and carrying a cell phone, whistle or personal alarm to alert people if you need help.
UPDATE: This story has been corrected --- it erroneously stated that the robbery took place during the day, instead of at night.
The one-cent school sales tax that Champaign County voters approved in April still needs the county board's approval. That's why several area school officials turned out for Wednesday night's county board Policy Committee meeting. Several of them told the committee about how the sales tax would provide money for building new schools and renovating old ones. And like Mahomet Seymour school board member Becky Ryherd, they mentioned how the sales tax would also allow school districts to lower their property tax rates. "Tax abatement was the one thing that's always caught the public's ear", Ryherd said. "They want to see a different way to fund schools.
Ryherd's own school board has promised to commit one third of its sales tax revenue towards property tax relief. But some Policy Committee members, like Republican Alan Nudo, worry that some school boards are modifying their tax relief promises, now that the sales tax has won voter approval. "If there is a difference between what was promised before the April election, and what now a board resolution shows, we need to know why", says Nudo.
The Policy Committee voted unanimously to send the school facilities sales tax to the full Champaign County Board for a final vote on June 18th. County Board Chairman Pius Weibel says he'll ask school districts to explain in writing, any changes they've made since the election in how they plan to use the sales tax money. But Nudo worries that once enacted, the county board has little say over the school sales tax, It has no sunset provision. State law says it can't be repealed by a county board, as long as a school district is using to pay off bonds.
University of Illinois Urbana Chancellor Richard Herman says a review of the admissions process was underway months before revelations of a 'Category I' list of applicants wound up in recent media reports. But he told the U of I's Academic Senate Executive Committee Wednesday that the forming of a task force to manage inquiries will bring more information out in the open, including how applicant appeals are conducted.
"Admissions felt for a long period of time that we needed to have a readily accessable appeal process," says Herman. "It was always possible, but we didn't make it as easy or as transparent as we would have liked to. And that what's going to happen."
The admissions office wants its applicant appeals to be available on line. Herman did tell the committee that 'careless language' was used to characterize the U of I's admissions office, and that staff there shouldn't be blamed for anyone who may have been enrolled ahead of someone more qualified. Herman says it's unfortunate the Chicago Tribune identified the roll of tracked applicants as a 'clout list.' The university suspended the use the list this week. Committee Chair Nick Burbules says the problem regarding admissions isn't unique to the university or even the state, but he says the U of I shouldn't waste time finger pointing. Burbules says the most important issue is moving forward, and making sure that students are treated as fairly as possible.
The University of Illinois will suspend the use of its list of applicants for admission whose names were submitted through political connections.
While the 'Category I' list is suspended, a task force of U of I personnel will spend the summer reviewing the process by which many applicants were the subject of such inquiries. This announcement comes three days after the Chicago Tribune reported the existence of what it called a 'clout list' of people who may have been accepted to the university ahead of those with better qualifications. Spokeswoman Robin Kaler says the article raised some red flags, and it's time for the task force to make sure all students are admitted based on merit.
"The Category I system has raised a number of legitimate questions, and we simply want to create a process that can ensure the integrity of admissions," says Kaler.
The list consisted of the names of about 160 Urbana campus applicants on behalf whom admissions inquiries were made by public officials, alumni, and others with political influence. The task force is expected to have about six members, and include one or more faculty representatives. Its full makeup and timetable will be announced shortly, but Kaler says the group is expected to complete its work before the next admissions cycle begins in September. President Joseph White and chancellors of the three university campuses met Monday to discuss admissions issues.
University of Illinois President Joseph White wants to meet with admissions officials to be sure no inappropriate pressure was placed on them to enroll students who otherwise may not have been.
Friday's Chicago Tribune makes reference to a 'clout list' of prospective students who it contends received special consideration over the last five years. The newspaper says one such student who was admitted after initially being rejected by the U of I is a relative of convicted political fundraiser Tony Rezko. White says no one should feel pressure to admit a student because someone with political clout takes an interest.
"I have made it clear from the time I'm president that I will never exert such pressure and I never have," says White. "And that admissions officers and other people in the University are not to succumb to such pressure - that admissions decisions are to be based on the merits." White says he will often forward information to admissions officers regarding a prospective student, but that doesn't mean he's urging that the person be enrolled to the U of I. The president does say that lists of inquiries about a hopeful student, some through the urging of politicians, aren't unusual at institutions like the U of I and University of Michigan, where he served as interim president. But White says the Tribune was wrong to call the U of I list 'secret.
Senator Roland Burris is in the midst of a two-day tour through some central Illinois cities while still denying offering to pay for his appointment to the Senate.
On Wednesday Burris toured the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign - he watched a brief presentation on supercomputers, toured a soybean research lab and met with U of I chancellor Richard Herman.
But the visit is being overshadowed by Burris' appearance in a wiretapped phone conversation released by a federal judge this week. In it, Burris is heard telling the brother of former governor Rod Blagojevich that he'd "personally do something" for Blagojevich's campaign fund if he were appointed to the Senate. Burris says he never gave any money and has been open about it.
"We said that we would look at this transcript and might have to supply some additional information. That's all that we did. There was no attempt to do any wheeling and dealing to not disclose," Burris told reporters. "That did not take place."
Burris said the Illinois House impeachment committee didn't ask about the conversation with Robert Blagojevich when Burris testified - and that's why he said he hadn't mentioned it. He says he's been transparent with that committee, US Senate investigators and others.
The General Assembly no longer wants to put a restriction on how old someone must be to attend the University of Illinois.
No matter how smart or qualified, anyone under the age of 15 cannot enroll at any of the UI's three campuses -- which meant, of course, that a 14-year old high school graduate who last year had wanted to attend the Urbana-Champaign campus could not.
Representative Naomi Jakobsson says in the end, the student enrolled at nearby Parkland College, but it wasn't ideal. The legislature sent a measure to the governor that removes any restrictions.
Jakobsson admits the college lifestyle may be a bit mature for the younger set, no matter how smart they are. "There is a lot that goes on and one has to consider the maturity level of the student, to make sure that they're really able to be in a situation where there aren't kids around," Jakobsson said.
UI hopefuls still have to meet other requirements. They include four years of high school level English and three years of math, or demonstrating the equivalent level of knowledge and skills.