Board of Trustee members should be elected

By Jerry Vachaparambil

They control a $2 billion budget, tuition and fees, campus property, University policies and basically everything else that officially happens at the University. Yes they can! If you’ve read newspapers anytime during the past couple years, you’ve probably heard about these elite folks wielding immeasurable amounts of power over Chicago, Springfield and the Champaign-Urbana campuses. They are the University of Illinois Board of Trustees.

Coming almost exclusively from different parts of Chicagoland, these honorable individuals are supposed to represent a diverse world view in the decision-making processes concerning our University. Most of these people have proven to be effective in their areas of expertise, but there is an obvious lack of geographic distribution in the board, even though they represent all Illinois campuses. Of the nine voting trustees, only two of them live outside of Chicago, and the southern-most trustee lives just south of Bloomington.

But how are these honorable individuals selected? We all witnessed the recent aggressive campaigning for student trustee, with squirt gun forces and allegations of corruption that continue to resonate because of the unexpected outcome. The other nine Board of Trustee members: a contractor, journalist, educator, doctor and five lawyers, were appointed by governors.

Even among the student trustees, the governor controls the designation of voting rights, giving him a great deal of power over our lives – or at least our financial ones. Paul Schmitt, the current student trustee, believes, “The current system is really muddled with politics; to get on the board you need to be some kind of a political player. Not the kind that goes out and campaigns, but the kind that supports the governor.” Schmitt supports a measure proposed by house members Luis Arroyo, D-3, and Chapin Rose, R-110, (among others) called H.B. 0054. He believes that the system is too easily exploited by careless governors (cough coug Blago). For some reason, Schmitt seems to have lost faith in the fundamental goodness and fairness of our governors … I wonder why.

This bill would allow the people of Illinois to elect those who represent them on the Board. With elections that allocate a proportional number of trustees for each district, the good people of Chicagoland would get three trustees, rather than the eight they have now.

However trustee David Dorris vehemently opposes a switch from appointments to elections. After studying the flaws of Michigan’s system, which is moving from elections to appointment, he said he feels that the switch would be pointless.

Dorris thinks an elected trustee would have flaws similar to an appointed one. Even those elected would be chosen by their party chair.

There is more room for corruption because everything would happen under the guise of public elections (but the politicians know the areas of the state that tend to vote in exclusively partisan).

I’m a fan of democratic elections, but I just don’t understand how they would eliminate the presence of “political players” in the Board of Trustees.

Our state can benefit from governor appointed trustees, as long as there is a certain degree of transparency in these nominations. Two integral components that must be stressed are geographical diversity and the input of an impartial board, such as the Alumni Board.

The reason Gov. Edgar eliminated the system of elected trustees in the first place is because of the general apathy regarding candidates we don’t see in action on a daily basis. Under this system, most people don’t really know anything about the candidates and tend to vote exclusively on party lines.

When Gov. Edgar changed the system he must not have thought about the possibility of a Blagojevich coming to ruin the entire structure of gubernatorial appointments. But nevertheless, a Democrat has done it again, making the impossible possible. After all, isn’t our country’s new mantra, “Yes we can”?

Jerry is a freshman in psychology and a member of the establishment.