Hoping to end a "sorry chapter" in University of Illinois' history, new board chair Christopher Kennedy and other trustees voted Thursday to eliminate all preferential admissions practices that led to a massive scandal at the state's most prestigious campus.
It was one of the first actions of a reconstituted board appointed by Gov. Pat Quinn, an ex-officio trustee who made a rare appearance at the meeting in Urbana-Champaign and participated in part of a 3 1/2 -hour closed session to discuss personnel issues.Among the board's first tasks is to decide whether to retain President B. Joseph White and Chancellor Richard Herman.
"The board should review the performance of the president, the chancellor and others," he said. "It merits a full-scale review."
Quinn was the first governor to attend a U. of I. board meeting since Gov. Jim Edgar participated in 1992.
Trustee Edward McMillan said the board could release, as soon as Friday, a "road map" for how it will decide the future of the top administrators.
He said a decision could be made at the board's next meeting in November.
He said the goal is to "get through this process, get a conclusion and get on with the recovery process."
"It won't be immediate but in my estimate it will be timely," McMillan said.
Kennedy declined to discuss details but said the board needs to "fully inform ourselves about a very complicated issue."
To signal a new era of conduct, trustees also got a tutorial from the university's ethics officer on conflicts of interest and other ethics guidelines. White suggested adding a board committee on ethics.
The changes come after the Tribune revealed in May that U. of I. had a shadow admissions system for well-connected students that allowed applicants sponsored by trustees, lawmakers and others to be admitted over more qualified students. Quinn asked the nine appointed members of the board to resign, and seven complied.
The new board's first action was to elect its chair, and Quinn seconded the nomination for Kennedy, later calling the Chicago businessman "a man of great integrity and great accomplishment." Kennedy, son of the late Robert F. Kennedy, is president of Merchandise Mart Properties.
But questions immediately were raised about whether Quinn had worked behind the scenes to ensure Kennedy got the powerful position. During hearings this summer before a state panel that investigated the university's admissions practices, witnesses said that Gov. Rod Blagojevich had hand-picked former chair Lawrence Eppley, allowing him to leap over more veteran trustees.
Kennedy declined to comment on whether he had discussed the position with Quinn before the meeting, and the governor said he "really didn't talk to anybody about that." He declined to say whether he had discussed his choice with his staff.
McMillan, who was nominated for the chairmanship by a student trustee, was the only trustee not to vote for Kennedy.
"I had known ahead of time that the governor was interested in Trustee Kennedy being chair," said McMillan, the only member of the old board who resigned, then was reappointed. "I will leave it at that."
Kennedy will serve as board chair until at least January, when the position will again come up for a vote. The length of the trustees' terms vary and will end between 2011 and 2015.
In addition to Kennedy, the new board members are Lawrence Oliver, chief investigator for The Boeing Co.; Karen Hasara, former Springfield mayor; Timothy Koritz, an anesthesiologist at Rockford Memorial Hospital; Pamela Strobel, a retired Exelon executive from Winnetka; and Carlos Tortolero, the president of the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen.
Quinn chose not to fire Trustees Frances Carroll and James Montgomery after they refused to resign. Carroll, now the most senior member of the board, publicly acknowledged at the start of Thursday's meeting that Quinn took heat for letting them remain, and thanked him for doing so.
The admissions reforms approved Thursday mirror recommendations from the state Admissions Review Commission as well as the stated plans of administrators.
The board voted to eliminate all preferential admissions and tracking systems, including Category I -- the designation for well-connected undergraduates -- as well as "special interest admissions" at the law school.
The resolution states that admissions decisions will be guided by "fairness to applicants, transparency of process and equality of access."
The board also directed university officials to decide whether to allow denied students to appeal, and to create an admissions code of conduct that would include a "firewall" around admissions to prevent undue influence.
Employees who violate the code could be fired.
White said administrators will act quickly "so that the tens of thousands of individuals applying to the University of Illinois this academic year can be confident in our admission processes."
U. of I. ends admissions clout
Kennedy is new leader of board that kills practice
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