U of I Trustee First Casualty In Clout Scandal

Lawrence Eppley gave Gov. Quinn letter on Tuesday

University of Illinois trustee Lawrence Eppley offered his resignation Tuesday amid a growing scandal over the role of political influence in student admissions at the state's flagship system.

Eppley sent Gov. Pat Quinn a letter, obtained by The Associated Press, that says he will step down in 90 days or as soon as a successor is appointed. He called on fellow trustees to do the same, and one said he hadn't ruled it out.

"As the ultimate body of governance and leadership of this University, the trustees must help maintain the confidence of our shareholders, who in this case are the people of Illinois," Eppley wrote. "Just as in the corporate world, shareholders' lack of confidence in an organization justifies effecting changes."

Eppley, criticized for pushing candidates recommended by ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich, also called for unnamed administrators to accept responsibility for the admissions uproar at the university.

"While the trustees are, in the end, responsible for the overall governance of the University, it is also important that the public has confidence and trust in the campus administrators who bear responsibility for the day-to-day decisions that have impacted the U of I in these circumstances," Eppley wrote.

Eppley did not immediately return a call for comment. His office voice mail indicated he will be away until early August.

"I thank him for his years of service and wish him well," Quinn said in a statement accepting Eppley's resignation. "The search for his successor will begin immediately." A Quinn spokeswoman declined further comment.

Quinn appointed a commission to investigate the role of political power in university admissions after news reports revealed the school's Urbana-Champaign campus keeps a list of politically connected applicants, some of whom were admitted to the school despite lackluster credentials.

The list, known as Category I, and thousands of pages of e-mails and other documents released by the university reveal that lawmakers and university trustees, Eppley included, often inquired about well-connected applicants.

Trustee Robert Vickery said late Tuesday he hadn't ruled out resigning but would wait for the commission's report -- due by Aug. 8 -- to make a decision. Vickrey said he hadn't talked to Eppley about his decision, but said Eppley should shoulder much of the responsibility after serving as trustees board chairman from 2003 through 2008.

"He was chairman for six years, and he becomes responsible for all things good and bad that happened on his watch," said Vickrey, a LaSalle business owner who was appointed to the board by Gov. George Ryan in 2001.

Other trustees did not return calls seeking comment.

Rep. Mike Boland, the East Moline Democrat who chairs the General assembly Higher Education Committee, said the remaining trustees, with the exception of recent Quinn appointee Ed McMillan, should follow Eppley's example.

"That was the honorable thing to do," said Boland, who has called for Quinn to remove trustees if they don't resign.

According to university documents, Eppley e-mailed university President B. Joseph White about candidates supported by Blagojevich, who reappointed Eppley to the board in 2007. Ryan first named Eppley a trustee, in 2001.

One of those candidates was a relative of convicted influence peddler Tony Rezko, a central figure in Blagojevich corruption investigation. The applicant initially was going to be denied admission but was admitted in 2005.

Eppley has said he did not know Rezko or know or who he was when he e-mailed White about Blagojevich's interest.

In testimony in early July before the commission examining admissions, university Chancellor Richard Herman said he felt pressured to admit candidates backed by trustees, particularly Eppley.

Eppley, in his own testimony, said he now recognizes that inquiries made by trustees, lawmakers and other powerful figures served as an "underground recommendation system," something he said he didn't fully realize until recently.

In his letter, Eppley said university administrators "should put the university first and assume responsibility for their roles in the matter."

Neither White nor Herman could be reached for comment Tuesday.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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