Rose seeks overhaul of university trustee selection process

Rose seeks overhaul of university trustee selection process

"I'm saying there's a lot of smoke. There is," said state Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet. "And I see many red flags in the way the Blagojevich administration did business and in some of the appointments to boards and commissions, including the University of Illinois Board of Trustees. I'm bothered at many levels."

Mixed metaphors aside, the former Champaign County assistant state's attorney, six-year state representative and former UI student trustee is bulldogging a look at the university's board of trustees, the way trustees are appointed, the way they do business and even the way the university does business. It's not clear where his scattershot approach will lead, but it's worth watching.

Rose is operating on at least four levels here, pushing the so-called "fu- migation" bill that would review all appointments and hirings by the Bla- gojevich and Ryan administrations, promoting the development of a "model trustee" profile and training program in Illinois, asking university alumni groups to get more involved in the appointment of trustees and demanding an audit of the Illinois Ventures technology commercialization program at the UI Research Park.

The bottom line, he said, is to de-politicize the trustees and the management of the university.

"The single most important thing we can do is erect a firewall between the operation of the University of Illinois and the process of becoming a trustee," Rose said. "Nothing good is going to get done until we fix the way we appoint our trustees."

It's a fine notion, but if someone is able to divorce the University of Illinois from politics, it would be a first. It was politics (at the national level in 1862) that led to the creation of the university, politics that brought it to Urbana in 1867, politics that enabled it to grow and prosper and politics that has brought it, on occasion, shame (like the firing of President George Stoddard in 1953).

But Rose sees a problem and thinks he can fix it.

First, he wants Gov. Pat Quinn to review the appointments of all the trustees appointed by Ryan or Blagojevich.

"I think there are probably some that should be dumped," he said. "What I heard from President (B. Joseph) White last month is that individual trustees, depending on the issue, insert themselves into the decision-making capacities of the university, outside of their work as a board. I think that's inappropriate, and I think it would be inappropriate to leave all those appointments in place without going through them with a fine-tooth comb."

Rose declined to identify which appointments he thought needed to be reassessed.

"Everybody hears rumors and innuendo, and I will not engage in innuendo," he said. "But that's why the fumigation process is so important."

He did add, though, that he thinks the university should have more board members like David Dorris, Kenneth Schmidt and the newly appointed Ed McMillan.

"Their only interest is in the quality of the institution and in its betterment," he said.

Rose introduced a resolution asking the Illinois Board of Higher Education to develop a model trustee curriculum for public university trustees, taken from a national model, and to conduct mandatory training "on the proper role of a trustee." He said the resolution has the backing of Judy Erwin, a former state representative who is executive director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

A second resolution requests that the alumni association of each public university develop a transparent plan to vet and forward potential trustee candidates to the governor when there is an opening on their board.

"You want to remove any politics? Then put it in the hands of the alumni association to put forward a list of candidates," Rose said. "And if the governor doesn't go with whoever is on the list, then everyone will know it. If a future governor doesn't go with it, thumbs his nose at it, then we can all go screaming and yelling."

Finally, he has introduced another legislative resolution asking Illinois Auditor General William Holland to conduct a financial audit and compliance examination of Illinois Ventures. Although Holland's office has done past compliance examinations of Illinois Ventures, a recent attorney general's opinion found that the auditor general has no authority to audit private funds held by university-related organizations such as Illinois Ventures. But Rose said he has White's promise to allow another audit of Illinois Ventures. And John Banta, the CEO of Illinois Ventures, said he intends to continue the finance and compliance audits "irrespective of the recent change in the requirement."

Illinois Ventures is seeking another $1 million in state funds for the year beginning July 1, Rose noted.

White said, though, that economic development is officially a fourth mission of the UI (along with education, research and public service) and that support of Illinois Ventures is part of that mission.

Meanwhile, Rose said he hasn't given up on his goal of reinstating the statewide election of UI trustees, which was eliminated during the term of former Gov. Jim Edgar.

"I would still like to see the trustees elected," he said. "This is a $4 billion state asset, and I think the taxpayers should have a direct role in its governance."

Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at kacich<@>news-gazette.com.