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Will Diversity Factor in the Reshaping the Illinois Board of Trustees?

Making up just 6.2 percent of the student body at Illinois’ flagship institution, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Black students have long been under-represented. Many have lamented an unwelcoming environment and the disclosure of a “clout list” of individuals who had been granted favorable treatment in admissions served to fuel the perception that the school caters to the elite.

But Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn’s decision this week to allow the two lone Black university trustees to remain while the rest of the board resigned and his appointment of two new trustees, including another African-American, may signal a step toward greater inclusiveness.

The Board of Trustees is made up of 13 members, including the governor. They oversee all three campuses of the University of Illinois: Chicago, Urbana-Champaign and Springfield. The clout list included about 800 students’ names. In June, the Chicago Tribune reported that documents showed subpar applicants were admitted to the Champaign-Urbana campus because of influence from state legislators and university trustees. A panel has subsequently investigated and issued a report on this matter.

Dr. Frances D. Carroll, one of the two African-American trustees who would not resign, says neither she nor any fellow trustees had knowledge of the clout list. She considers the trustees forced to resign as scapegoats for mistakes in the system.

“I work very hard to serve the university and to help the university to become a diverse entity,” says Carroll, a former faculty member at DePaul University and an education consultant. “I was not responsible for the admissions scandal. I don’t believe in going down for something I’m not responsible for.”

Carroll says moving forward she and fellow trustees must root out who was responsible for the clout list. They must also work to make all the campuses of the university welcoming environments for diverse student populations.

Statistics for the Chicago campus show that from 1998-2008 approximately 9 percent of the student population was African-American, 13 percent was Hispanic and 46 percent identified as Caucasian. For the 2008-09 school year, just 2,524 of 41,496 students at Champaign-Urbana were African-American.

“What I’ve found in my six years as a trustee is that many African-American students don’t even apply because they have had such bad experiences,” Carroll says. “The counselors in the high schools need to have an emphasis on recommending students and encouraging them to apply to the University of Illinois as our premier university. Make sure they don’t get any kind of feeling that it’s not accessible to them.”

The other trustee who refused to resign is James D. Montgomery, a prominent Black Chicago attorney. Joining Carroll and Montgomery on the board as newly appointed trustees are Christopher G. Kennedy, president of Merchandise Mart Properties, Inc., and Lawrence Oliver II, chief counsel in charge of internal investigations for the Boeing Company. He is a frequent national speaker on issues of corporate compliance.

“Initially the board must grapple with the findings from the panel’s report, including determining the status of the university’s current leadership and implementing measures to ensure there are no more ‘Category I’ (or ‘clout list’) type issues,” wrote Oliver in an e-mail to Diverse.

“Diversity and inclusion are issues at most, if not all, public universities,” he added. “It is a topic that I personally care a great deal about and will look to actively engage in.”

Gov. Quinn’s office did not respond to request for comment.

In a press release issued by the governor’s office, it noted that Governor Quinn said he intends to name more trustees to the university board within a few days. The next trustee meeting is scheduled for September 10.

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