Thursday, July 30, 2009

UI admissions panel narrows in on recommendations

By Maureen Foertsch McKinney
The committee entrusted with evaluating the admissions process at the University of Illinois is expected to recommend that Gov. Pat Quinn at least seek the resignation of the chair of the board of trustees, Niranjan Shah, said committee member Ric Estrada today.

The admissions review committee established last month by Quinn (press release here) is expected to review a report outline tomorrow and submit its recommendations by August 7.

In early June, the Chicago Tribune reported that over a five-year period, about 800 students were admitted after scoring recommendations from such clout wielders as Shah, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and university donors. The Tribune reported that students whose names were marked in red on so-called clout lists received preferential treatment, including special consideration for admission to the law school.

According to the Tribune, documents the newspaper obtained showed that Shah in 2007 directed Chancellor Richard Herman to hire his future son-in-law Maarten de Jeu at the Champaign-Urbana campus.

In testimony before the committee last week, as reported by the Tribune, Shah acknowledged that he intervened on a relative’s behalf when she forgot to apply to an honors program at the Champaign-Urbana campus.

Shah could not be reached for comment today.

Meanwhile, with his resignation Tuesday, University of Illinois trustee Lawrence Eppley joined mounting calls for the board step down.

Commission Chairman Abner Mikva, a former federal judge, told WGN radio in Chicago that he supports the mass resignation of the board. “I think the best thing that could happen, as far as the state and the governor, is if all of them would submit their resignations and he would decide which, if any, he would keep.”

Retired presidents James Stukel and Stanley Ikenberry earlier this week also told the panel they would support replacement of the current board, while current President B. Joseph White called the situation a “crisis” for his campus.

According to the Tribune, Eppley, a Chicago-based attorney, played a greater role in admissions requests than other trustees. Eppley also served as Blagojevich’s intermediary in cases that included “one in which a relative of political fundraiser Antoin ‘Tony’ Rezko’s had his rejection overturned following Eppley’s involvement,’’ the Tribune reported.

Then-Gov. George Ryan appointed Eppley to the board in 2001, and he was elevated to chair in 2003 by Blagojevich. His term would have expired in 2003.

“I thank him for his years of service and wish him well,’’ Quinn said in a statement announcing Eppley’s resignation.

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