Fitzgerald appointment well-received at UI
CHICAGO — A few new vocabulary words for Patrick Fitzgerald:
— A "dashboard" is not a feature in an automobile, but a snapshot of data, such as admissions yields, displayed in a PowerPoint presentation and appearing often at trustee meetings.
— "MOOCs" are massive open, online courses, and they are changing the face of higher education around the world.
— An "academic professional" at the University of Illinois is different from a civil service employee in how they're hired, although that may change. (He will hear more about that debate soon.)
The former federal prosecutor who took down two Illinois governors, media mogul Conrad Black, the first World Trade Center bombers and many others, was chosen to be the newest member of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, Gov. Pat Quinn announced early Friday.
"I'll be walking in with a clean state," Fitzgerald told The News-Gazette.
Quinn formally asked him about a week ago to serve on the board, and though he has not served on any public or education-related boards previously, Fitzgerald said he was "delighted" with the opportunity.
"It was an easy decision on my end," he said, "knowing lots of people have an appreciation of what an important institution it is in the state and the opportunities it gives folks."
Fitzgerald plans to attend next week's board meeting in Chicago and said he envisions his role on the board as that of someone who asks lots of questions.
"I want to dig down before making decisions on things and casting a vote," he said.
His appointment appeared to be well-received among the board and on the campus of the state's flagship university, which has had its share of scandals in recent years. In 2009, the campus was rocked by the revelation of Category I, in which trustees, politicians and other well-connected people pushed the admission of some students over more-qualified applicants. In 2011, the university uncovered falsified law school admissions data and, last year, the American Bar Association slapped the college with sanctions. A year ago, the UI began investigating Lisa Troyer, former chief of staff to President Michael Hogan, for sending anonymous emails to faculty, and ultimately she and Hogan resigned from their posts. She left the UI and he is on sabbatical.
"We need to remain vigilant about protecting the reputation of the university, and the trustees need to set the tone at the top," said Board Chairman Christopher Kennedy, who is expected to be named to another term as chairman next week. Kennedy, appointed by Quinn in late August 2009, pointed out it has been over three years since the admissions turmoil.
"As an institution that is committed to maintaining the highest levels of integrity in our own practice, Patrick Fitzgerald will be a strong advocate for those values," said UI Professor Nicholas Burbules, chairman of the University Senates Conference, a governance group of faculty from all three campuses.
Events like Category I and the falsification of law school data do not define the institution's values, Burbules said.
"We don't need to restore our integrity. Our integrity as an institution is a given," he said.
Burbules said he sees the appointment of Fitzgerald "as an expression of our integrity as an institution, a reminder that these aberrations do not define who we are."
Added Kennedy: "Patrick's reputation will precede him and us in a way that contributes to the board's reputation as acting in the best interests of the university."
As U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois from 2001 until 2012, Fitzgerald led numerous high-profile investigations and prosecutions, including the convictions on corruption charges of former Illinois Govs. George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich, and the fraud conviction of Conrad Black.
He is currently a partner in the Chicago office of the Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom. Fitzgerald's undergraduate degree is from Amherst College and his law degree is from Harvard Law School. His wife is a UI graduate, and he said he has attended football games in Urbana and is familiar with the UI's Chicago campus. He's never visited UI Springfield and said he was looking forward to learning more about that campus.
In his announcement of his board pick, Quinn said, "Patrick Fitzgerald has served the people of Illinois well and he will be an outstanding member of our outstanding leadership team at Illinois' flagship university."
Fitzgerald has received numerous honors for his more than 20 years in public service, including the Justice John Paul Stevens Award from the Chicago Bar Association. He was previously named "Lawyer of the Year" by The National Law Journal.
Fitzgerald replaces trustee Lawrence Oliver II, a lawyer for the Boeing Corp.
Oliver said he was disappointed but not completely surprised by Quinn's decision not to reappoint him. He had heard "rumblings" about his official status as a political independent since voting in a Democratic primary in 2010.
Under state statutes, no more than five of the nine trustees appointed by the governor can be from the same political party. Besides Oliver, the board currently has five Democrats and three Republicans.
Six months after he was appointed as a UI trustee, Oliver said, he voted in the Democratic primary to support a good friend, David Hoffman, for U.S. Senate. The two had served together on the Illinois Reform Commission that Quinn appointed in 2009.
"I believed in his candidacy strongly," Oliver said, maintaining that he is still an independent. "I think that was the first time I voted in a primary. I vote candidates, not parties."
A representative from the governor's office phoned Oliver on Wednesday afternoon with the news.
Oliver, who worked under Fitzgerald as a federal prosecutor, called him "an excellent choice" for the UI board.
"I know him and think the world of him. I have already congratulated him and think he is an outstanding selection. The university is in great hands," he said.
Because Kennedy and Oliver were the first two trustees appointed to the board by Quinn following the admissions scandal, Kennedy said, the two formed a special bond "as we were trying to absorb the magnitude of the task before us."
What helped? "Lawrence has a great moral and ethical compass," Kennedy said.
David Pileski, student trustee from Urbana, also spoke highly of Oliver, describing him as someone who cared about the student body and always considered how decisions affect students.
"He was always looking at things holistically. He knew the university did not exist in a vacuum," Pileski said.
Kennedy said he expects Oliver to continue to look out for the UI's best interests.
Oliver said he has had "some discussions" about serving on other state boards but declined to elaborate. He said he is not interested in elected office.
Oliver called his three-year term on the board "a great experience."
"I got a chance to take some leadership role in cleaning that up," he said of Category I.
The board also had to deal with the hiring of a president and two chancellors, ongoing funding problems, a law school investigation, questions about the hiring of football and basketball coaches, and Hogan's resignation.
"We've had our hands full," Oliver said. "It's been very enriching and challenging."
On Friday, Quinn also reappointed trustees Dr. Timothy N. Koritz and James Montgomery. Koritz is a U.S. Air Force veteran and serves as staff anesthesiologist at Rockford Memorial Hospital. Koritz was previously appointed to the board in 2009. Montgomery is a Chicago attorney and has served on the board since 2007. Both are UI alumni. Three of Dr. Koritz's four children are students on the Urbana campus.
Koritz said he was pleased to be reappointed and was looking forward to meeting and working with Fitzgerald.
"He's had a stellar career and is highly respected in his field," Koritz said.
Koritz is the sole medical doctor on the board and has chaired its health affairs committee.
Because the UI's annual budget is just over $5 billion, and the hospital and medical colleges represent about $1.5 billion of that, it's important to have someone on the board who understands how hospitals work and who speaks the language of health care, he said.
"There are a lot of challenges facing the university. I can't help but be an optimist because we have so many good people at the university. It's not like the university will not encounter tough times, but it will pull through because of its people and the positions they're in," Koritz said.
Oliver also said he fully supports Kennedy continuing as board chairman for a fourth full term. He said Kennedy has good instincts, spends a great deal of time on complex university issues, is "very well-connected," and works well with other trustees.
"I think he is the right person to continue doing that," he said.
On Friday, the governor also announced three reappointments to the Northern Illinois University board of trustees: businessman Robert Boey, who has served on the board since 1996; Dr. John Butler, a Chicago-area business consultant who is an NIU alumnus and has served on the board since 2007; and Wheeler Coleman, vice president and chief technology officer at Heath Care Service Corp. and former vice president of the NIU Alumni Association, who was previously appointed by Quinn in 2011.
News-Gazette staff writer Julie Wurth contributed to this report.