Blagojevich has ties to University

By Stephen Spector

As Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s impeachment hysteria reaches its boiling point with the start of the Senate trial next week, a few puffs of steam have clouded the University.

The focus of Blagojevich’s allegations concentrates on the state’s once-vacant Senate seat and his improper use of power. Yet, as Illinois’ CEO, the politician has ties with the state’s largest public university.

A transparent responsibility of the governor for the University is to appoint nine members to the school’s Board of Trustees. Each of the governor’s picks serve six-year terms.

He also appoints one of the three campus’ student trustees to have an official vote at meetings.

Blagojevich is the ex-officio member of the Board of Trustees, meaning his membership is possible by virtue of being the state’s governor. If he so chooses, Blagojevich is eligible to vote on matters discussed at board meetings.

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    Tom Hardy, the University’s executive director of external relations, said the school is not nervous about any possible revelations concerning the Blagojevich scandal.

    “Our trustees are strong, smart and dedicated people, and they should be judged appropriately,” Hardy said.

    For trustee David Dorris, Blagojevich’s involvement with the University is not a question of fraud but rather minimal contribution.

    “He was totally disinterested with the University,” said Dorris. “There is no story here about him doing anything. I’m not sure if he knew where Champaign-Urbana was. I don’t know if anybody could engage him in a conversation about the University.”

    The recently elected chairman of the board Niranjan S. Shah said the ubiquitous media flurry dedicated to the governor’s impeachment process has not staggered the University’s reputation.

    “The University has acted very much independently as a public institution, and we’re fortunate in maintaining an outstanding reputation,” Shah said.

    Alongside appointing the trustees, Blagojevich is responsible for approving state funding for the University in order to preserve its national rankings. As the governor’s policy proposals are indications of his political discourse, education leaders and pundits suggest Blagojevich has deprived the University of its funding. Student body president Jaclyn O’Day recently critiqued state funding at the most recent Board of Trustees meeting.

    Shah noted that he has never talked to Blagojevich about higher education.

    Dorris believes that if Blagojevich is impeached, then a governor with more interest in working hand-in-glove with the University will lead the state.

    “We’re under-funded; we all know that,” Dorris said. “The confusion with what’s going on in Springfield has not worked to the advantage at the University. Impeachment is not the problem, it’s the solution.”