Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Searching for Ethics at the U of I.

In May of 2009, Chicago Tribune investigators exposed something known as "Category I."  This was a special admissions status that allowed politically connected students who otherwise would not be accepted to the university to attend.

Considering that two Illinois governors are serving federal prison terms, it should come as no surprise that our state higher education system has also been tainted by clout and corruption.  Yet this scandal rocked the Illinois system to its core leading to the resignation of then President B. Joseph White and the resignations of the majority of the Board of Trustees for the university system. 

Christopher Kennedy, the son of  Robert Kennedy and President of Merchandise Mart Properties real estate management firm, was chosen to be the new Chairman of the Board of Trustees and Michael Hogan was selected in May of 2010 to serve as the university system's new president. 

Fast forward to January of this year and the revelation that President Hogan's Chief-of-Staff--Lisa Troyer--sent an anonymous email to faculty at the university attempting to persuade them to adopt a new "streamlined" admissions initiative championed by the system president that would have linked the three campuses in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago, and Springfield.

Faculty at the Urbana-Champaign campus of the University of the Illinois accused President Hogan of attempting to bully them through his assistant and forced Troyer's resignation.  One hundred and thirty of them also signed a letter in late February stating their lack of confidence in Hogan and asking him to resign. 

Responding to faculty pressure, the university board of trustees called an emergency meeting yesterday in Chicago.  In that meeting they charged Hogan to fix his relationship with the Urbana-Champaign faculty or risk being replaced. 

Because the board meeting was held in the same building that houses my office, I had the opportunity to see President Hogan leaving the meeting yesterday.  He did not look like a happy man.  Deflated was the word that kept coming to mind.  Clearly he was given a good dressing down by his superiors. 

What remains to be seen, however, is what impact if any this dressing down will have.  Ethics tests, new leadership, and changed enrollment policies have all failed to change the clout-driven status quo at the University of Illinois. 

Maybe we should let the students run the school.  Whether it's efficient or not, at least we'd know they are getting what they need.  And if they weren't, they would only have themselves to blame and not some entrenched bureaucracy.

Update: President Michael Hogan resigned on March 22 as head of the University of Illinois system.  He is being replaced for a two year period by Professor Emeritus Robert Easter. 

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