Illini Trustees Talk Clout

Mystery trustee helped kin get classes

Now it's Lawrence Eppley's turn on the hot seat.

Eppley, the University of Illinois trustee who allegedly handled the admissions requests of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, is scheduled to testify today to the state commission investiating the clout scandal that has engulfed the school.

Eppley is the biggest bad guy in the drama next to Urbana chancellor Richard Herman - who has already thrown Eppley under the bus.

Herman testified that he felt he couldn't refuse Eppley because of his relationship with the governor.

Eppley and two other trustees scheduled to testify will also likely be asked about meddling that, in at least one case, went so far as to secure certain classes for a relative.

"Trustee meddling in student affairs at the University of Illinois' flagship campus extended beyond admissions as one board member made sure his relative got the classes he wanted, an associate dean testified Monday before a state panel," the Tribune reports.

"Mary Ramsbottom, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, told the Illinois Admissions Review Commission that she received a 'directive' from the provost's office in 2003 to help the student secure spots in classes that were already filled.

"In doing so, the student jumped over scores of others ahead of him in the queues, she said."

The trustee involved in that case has not been identified; according to the Tribune, Eppley did not have a relative enrolled in the school at that time fitting the description.

But Eppley's name has surfaced time and again in efforts to push politically connected applicants through the admissions process.

"When Trustee Lawrence Eppley passed along a letter from Gov. Rod Blagojevich in 2005," the Tribune has reported, "[University President B. Joseph] White wrote an e-mail to Chancellor Richard Herman stating that the governor 'has expressed his support, and would like to see admitted' a relative of Antoin 'Tony' Rezko. Admissions officers had already decided to reject the applicant; instead, the relative was admitted."

Meanwhile, any assertion today by trustees that the university's clouted admissions somehow represents standard operating procedure at public schools across the country was blown out of the water in Monday's testimony by national admissions experts.

"Two national admissions experts who testified Monday expressed surprise at the U. of I.'s elaborate clouting system," the Tribune reports.

"While they acknowledged that all colleges and universities receive inquiries from powerful donors, politicians and trustees, the experts said they didn't know of any public institution that gave requests such attentive care and consideration."

"The magnitude at the University of Illinois is what shocks me," Joyce Smith, chief executive of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, told the commission.

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

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