SPRINGFIELD - The resignation of Tom Lamont, a 12-year member of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, has helped clear the way for the confirmation of another trustee.
Lamont resigned from the board late last week, for a six-year appointment as vice chairman of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich has appointed Frances Carroll, a veteran of the Chicago public school system, to replace him. Her appointment is effective today, when the board meets in Urbana.
Carroll will be the only black member on the board and one of two female trustees. As a result of her appointment, the confirmation process for Trustee Robert Sperling can now go forward.
Sperling, a Chicago attorney, was appointed by Blagojevich along with two other new trustees earlier this year. The other two have been confirmed by the Senate, but Sperling's confirmation has been blocked by Sen. Rickey Hendon, D-Chicago, head of the executive appointments committee.
Hendon wanted a black woman named to the board to create more diversity. All the other board members are white, with the exception of Niranjan Shah, who is Indian.
Hendon said he is pleased with Carroll's appointment and he expects Sperling's confirmation hearing to go forward.
"I think she will be an excellent addition, and it shows the diversity we need at all levels of state government," Hendon said. "The fact that she's a woman is really, really good, and the fact that she's African-American is a double bonus. She is certainly quite acceptable to me, and she'll be great for the entire state of Illinois."
Hendon said he never objected to Sperling's qualifications, just that there were no black trustees appointed to the board.
"He was just caught in the middle of that situation, but I have no problem with him whatsoever," Hendon said of Sperling. "I always said he was a fine candidate. I'm pleased to see it worked out.
"I just made it clear what my position on it was and what we'd like to see," he said. "We were very happy the governor's office listened."
Lamont said he and the chairman of the higher education board, James Kaplan, are friends and this spring they discussed Lamont serving as vice chairman. Lamont has been a board member for three years, serving as the representative from a state public university.
He said he was contacted by the governor's office last week about resigning from the board of trustees and taking the six-year appointment to the higher education board immediately. The appointment is an unpaid one.
"I was aware of the problem (of Sperling's confirmation)," Lamont said. "We kicked around some of the ramifications. It was more of a timing situation. If we are going to do this, let's do it now so we can resolve our other problem.
"I felt it was important now to do it so (Carroll) could be my successor and be confirmed this year while they are still in session, and I wanted to take care of Bob (Sperling) too and relieve any potential problem there. It just seemed sensible."
Lamont said he also hopes Carroll or another trustee will be appointed to take his former seat as a higher education board member.
Carroll worked in the Chicago public schools for 35 years, taught at the elementary and high school levels and served as principal of an alternative school.
She taught graduate education classes for 20 years at Roosevelt University. She is currently coordinator for the School Achievement Structure Program at DePaul University and vice president of Group17 Educational Consultants.
Carroll has served as president of the Chicago Council and the Illinois Council for Exceptional Children, and as the national president of the Black Caucus of Special Education.
She was appointed as a Cook County commissioner on women's issues in 1995. She also serves on the executive board of the Chicago Alliance of Black Educators. Carroll has a bachelor's degree from Roosevelt University, a master's degree in special education from Chicago State University and a doctorate in education from the University of Sarasota.
Her appointment must still be confirmed by the Senate, but if it is, she will serve the remainder of Lamont's term, which will expire in January 2005.
Lamont has served on the board of trustees since 1991. His term was to expire last January, but when former board Chairman Gerald Shea resigned in November, then-Gov. George Ryan appointed Lamont to serve the remainder of Shea's term, to January 2005.
"I realized I only had 18 months or less on the board here, so it was a chance to take a six-year appointment and get into some areas that went beyond just the University of Illinois," Lamont said. "I did look at it as a new challenge.
"It is a very significant board, but there was concern over the past several years that it hasn't really been viewed by the Legislature with quite the stature that it should have," Lamont said of the Illinois Board of Higher Education. "I think there is going to be a chance to revamp that board and make it truly more of a viable operating board."
Lamont said he is proud of many of the accomplishments of the board of trustees during his tenure, but particularly of having the Legislature designate economic development as one of the official missions of the UI.
"I'm glad we were able to convince the Legislature that there was another role being played by the university and it should be recognized and funded as such," he said. "That is a big step for the university, for the ability to attract new researchers to central Illinois and to commercialize technology that comes out of that research, and that means jobs for Champaign-Urbana and central Illinois and the rest of Illinois.
"I had a great run," he continued. "I enjoyed my association with the institution and absolutely expect to continue my association with the university. It's been fun to be a part of an institution that's clearly a world-class institution as a public university, to maintain the stature and increase the stature it has over the past 12 years."
You can reach Jodi Heckel at (217) 351-5216 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.