School Spirit: U of I Trustees Should Get the Axe

But would mass firing cause chaos?

By Steve Rhodes
|  Wednesday, Aug 5, 2009  |  Updated 10:07 AM CDT
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School Spirit: U of I Trustees Should Get the Axe

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Don't be so quick to cheer for the ouster of the U of I board.

When University of Illinois board of trustees chairman Niranjan Shah followed the lead of trustee Lawrence Eppley and resigned on Monday, the Chicago Tribune weighed in with an editorial headlined "2 Down, 6 To Go."

Indeed.

The state panel that has been reviewing the admissions scandal at the U of I is expected to formally recommend this week that the entire board of trustees be cleaned out - or at least that Gov. Pat Quinn be given the choice of whom to retain and whom to kick to the curb.

It's a move that would be hard to argue with.

But today the Sun-Times editorial board - granted, it's only three people -  joins those who fear that a clean sweep could lead to, in the words of one trustee, "turmoil."

[D]umping the full board is going too far. Quinn will face pressure to do it, and we urge him to resist. ... Kicking out the entire 9-member board may feel good. It may have symbolic value. But it could hurt the university.

How? Losing all that "institutional knowledge" at once.

But not all the experts agree.

Richard Novak, the senior vice president of the Center for Public Trusteeship at the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges in Washington (whew!), tells AP that Quinn "probably won’t have trouble finding qualified people with either higher education experience, public governance experience or both.

"He added that Quinn shouldn’t have trouble finding trustees who are likely to do the right thing, given the memory of the current scandal and the scrutiny they would likely face."

Novak notes that the 18 members of Adelphi University in New York were fired en masse and their replacements "were successful, and still are to this day."

No doubt there would be a learning curve to university operations, policies and issues, but you would hope that wouldn't be insurmountable to the quality of people who ought to be sitting on the board.

As the Tribune notes, though, the trustees are only a part of the problem - and not nearly the biggest part.

Purging the board of trustees won't protect the U. of I. as long as governors and lawmakers regard admission to the state's flagship university as an entitlement of office. How the trustees are chosen is the least of our problems. We should worry more about choosing our elected officials.

Steve Rhodes is the proprietor of The Beachwood Reporter, a Chicago-centric news and culture review.

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