President White hands in resignation, will finish out year

B. Joseph White will resign as the 16th president of the University, effective Dec. 31.

In a press release from the University, Board of Trustees Chairman Christopher Kennedy accepted White’s official resignation. Kennedy said the board will address the appointment of an interim president at a special meeting “within weeks.”

He explained that a search committee of trustees, faculty, students and alumni will be named soon to recruit the next president. According to the release, the board intends to have a new president by the 2010-11 academic year.

“I take this action to enable you as a newly constituted board to select University leadership going forward,” White said in his letter addressed to Kennedy.

In the release, White said he will remain active at the University by teaching and raising funds. His contract as president would have expired in June 2011, but now his last day will be Dec. 31.

White also said he will forgo a $475,000 retention bonus he would have soon earned.

“I’m sensitive to the University’s difficult financial situation and the sacrifices being made by faculty and staff,” White said in his letter.

Kennedy said the University needs to review other personnel at an ad–hoc committee meeting Thursday at the University system’s Chicago campus at 9 a.m He said the meeting will be an organizational time to put together a plan for reviewing top administrators, including Chancellor Richard Herman.

Kennedy said he does not think it will hurt the board’s ability to find quality leadership in the future.

“The scandal won’t hurt us. There is a lot of passion about the University,” Kennedy said. “We want the University to be the best in every class.”

Kennedy said the remainder of the board is supportive of White and is looking to the future of the University.

“I don’t have a fear of lack of leadership, we’ve got a terrific board, each of whom have achieved excellence in their lives and will bring that together to the work of the University,” Kennedy said.

In a statement regarding the resignation, Gov. Pat Quinn stated he is grateful for White’s service to the University and the search for a new president will be conducted quickly.

“I am confident the University of Illinois is moving forward and that its best days are ahead,” Quinn said.

He said White’s resignation will help clear the air over the admissions scandal, but added he did not pressure White to resign.

White has faced reports over the past several months that the University admitted politically connected students over more qualified applicants.

University spokesman Tom Hardy said there was no real turning point along the way.

“He did what was in the best interest of the University,” Hardy explained.

Hardy noted the former president’s commitment to reforming the admissions process and giving fair treatment for all applicants.

“With a brand new board in place that wants to continue to move forward in a positive way, he (White) felt his actions would allow the board to continue to make determinations about University leadership,” Hardy said.

Former University President Stanley O. Ikenberry said he has been approached by a few members of the Board of Trustees as a possible candidate for interim president.

Though he said the conversations have not yet been serious, he would take the position if offered.

“Anybody who loves the University of Illinois and was asked to help would want to help,” Ikenberry said. “But the ultimate decision rests with the trustees.”

Ikenberry, who served as the University’s president from 1979 to 1995, said he has been committed to the University for 30 years and would help provide a smooth transition if asked, but would not serve a day longer than necessary.

“It would be good for the University to get fresh leadership as soon as possible,” he added. “It would be my number one priority to help recruit and attract candidates.”

Ikenberry said he does not feel that the University’s reputation was damaged enough by admissions issues to search for a possible replacement for White.

Ikenberry said he had some sense that a change in leadership was impending.

“This is one of the top leadership roles in the country,” Ikenberry said. “President White is to be commended for his initiative in the face of difficult circumstances.”

Former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar, also a distinguished fellow at the University’s Institute of Government and Public Affairs, said he did not talk to White and has not been approached as a possible candidate for interim president.

Kennedy said there are many possible sources for leaders.

“There are three or four ponds you fish in – one is former University presidents, another is the senior leadership now stepping up, another is other University presidents who have left their jobs and a last is a whole source of other ideas,” Kennedy said. “We will fish in all four of those ponds.”

Bill Maher, University archivist and member of the Urbana–Champaign Senate’s executive committee, said he is not completely surprised by the resignation.

“I would be equally not surprised if he were sticking with (the job),” Maher said. “Neither would surprise me.”

Last week, the U–C Senate approved a resolution that supported the removal process for both White and University Chancellor Richard Herman.

Maher said he does not think the U–C Senate resolution directly caused White’s resignation, but that the U-C Senate indication made the decision more logical.

Rep. Naomi Jakobsson (D-103) said she does not know how the University will start selecting a new president.

“Certainly the board of trustees has its work cut out for them,” Jakobsson said.

State Senator Michael Frerichs told Quinn that he can assist in the search for a new president, according to a press release from the senator.

“I am confident that the Governor and the Board of Trustees will act swiftly to select a new leader who reaffirms and executes the University of Illinois’ mission to provide one of the finest educational experiences in the nation,” Frerichs said.

Former student trustee, Paul Schmitt, said he has mixed feelings about White’s resignation.

“As a human being you have to have some empathy for him,” Schmitt said. “On a professional level it’s different.”

Schmitt said White failed to shield his people from corruption.

Peter Campbell, communications officer for the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO), said White’s decision indicates progress.

“We are happy that the University and the administration appears to be moving forward to correct the admissions scandal,” he said. “The GEO looks forward to the new president implementing White’s statements to prioritize the funding of undergraduate studies and the compensation of the graduate students who teach these courses.”