The Bland Leading the Bland

The Chicago Tribune has reported that trustees and administrators at the University of Illinois are at the center of a scandal regarding the admission of politically-connected students who were less qualified than the general pool of applicants. After the newspaper ran an investigative piece several weeks ago that sparked outrage, Governor Pat Quinn created an independent Admissions Review Commission to investigate allegations of preferential treatment.

Examination is surely in order. As ACTA has long argued, trustees must be more than just fundraisers, boosters, or rubber stamps. Board service is an honor, and it is also a responsibility. As ACTA noted in its guidebook for governors, it is vital that governors “appoint thoughtful, active trustees” who have “a clear sense of their responsibilities to the public.” Trustees do not serve for the benefit of friends or special constituencies; they are stewards of the public interest — appointed to safeguard the academic and financial integrity of the university — for the benefit of the entire community.

ACTA’s Must Reads, Posted by Heather Lakemacher on July 02, 2009

I probably shouldn’t pick on the ACTA so much, but since I did wonder out loud recently how they would respond to the ongoing ‘class scandal’ here in Illinois I thought a comment was justified. Their acknowledgment of the problem is remarkably non-committal and perhaps inevitably bland. This neutrality is curious, given the ACTA’s promotion of high moral and political standards.

I’d think that they would decry this sort of corruption as another example of how the American system of meritocracy and a-political education has been undermined by special interests. They certainly never pull any punches when it comes to what they see as the abuses of diversity and the “special interests” of the professors. Affirmative action, is not so bad, I guess, if it’s for the powerful.

I think this timidity, too, represents what might be called the Obama-effect, a not-so-buried fear rippling through the culture of the powerful, an anxiety that “business as usual” might be a little more disrupted than they hoped. The trustee system is certainly a prime candidate for populist change, especially if it becomes more visible. How can they make this look good?

Is the ACTA, and other like minded folks, wondering if these hearings risk pulling on a thread that might unravel the assumptions that allowed business people (aka Capital) to take over the governance of public universities? It wasn’t always that way, of course, and it”s easy to imagine a more progressive trustees model rooted in community service and academic-self governance.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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