Commission testimony, letter indicate public should elect UI board members

In a letter to the Illinois Admissions Review Commission, former University presidents James Stukel and Stanley Ikenberry urged Governor Pat Quinn to change the way that members of the Board of Trustees are selected.

But the split appointment system is no more likely to be free of corruption than the current one.

Inevitably, the Board of Trustees will be beholden to those who select them— be that the governor or the Alumni Association. In order to have a board that represents the interests of the state, members must be elected by the state’s voters.

On Monday, Ikenberry testified that he could not recall any incidences during his tenure when elected trustees intervened in admissions decisions. However, the current governor-appointed board has demonstrated repeatedly that they value repaying their political benefactors over effective governance of the University.

All members of the current Board, except for Edward McMillan, appointed in May, inquired about the admissions status of candidates that they knew. The involvement of some trustees extends significantly beyond that — trustee Lawrence Eppley estimates that he submitted four “inquiries” a year on behalf of former Governor Rod Blagojevich, and board chairman Niranjan Shah reportedly told former UI president Stukel that the Board members “owed” Blagojevich for their appointments.

Stukel added that when Gerald Shea was appointed chair of the board by then Governor George Ryan, Shea “immediately” made his influence known, and consistently represented the governor’s interest.

Feelings of indebtedness to governors and legislators is at the heart of board member involvement in the admissions scandal. To reform the admissions process and ensure that political meddling plays no role in future admissions decisions, we need an independent Board of Trustees.

Appointments made by the Alumni Association would inevitably reward the power and connections of top donors.

These appointees in turn would likely be expected to advocate for applicants related to other donors. Of course, there’s no assurance that elected trustees would be immune from outside influences or conduct themselves ethically.

Reforming how Board of Trustees members are selected is only one part of reforming the admissions process. All we can do is try to make board members as independent as possible, and electing them is the only way this can be accomplished.