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U. of Ill. trustees who resigned now left hanging
Associated Press
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Published: 8/30/2009 12:00 AM

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CHAMPAIGN -- When Gov. Pat Quinn called in early August asked University of Illinois trustees to step down so he could have a chance to remake the school's governing board in the wake of an admissions scandal, four of them reluctantly agreed.

University alums Kenneth Schmidt, David Dorris and Devon Bruce and fellow trustee Robert Vickrey all told Quinn they'd resign for the good of the school, but would like to be reappointed.

Now, they're left hanging. Quinn allowed two trustees who refused to go to keep their positions, and he appointed two new board members this week. There's been no word on the fate of the other four.

While the governor's office confirms it is interviewing as many as a few dozen "serious" contenders for trustee spots, Schmidt says neither the governor nor his staff has given him any idea where he stands, or whether he might be reappointed. Quinn has said he wants to have a full, nine-member board in place before the next trustees' meeting, on Sept. 10.

"We have heard not a word, but I think we still feel we did the honorable thing," the 67-year-old doctor said Thursday.

Dorris, who says he's only received a form letter from the governor and doesn't expect to be reappointed, won't comment directly on the governor's about face allowing James Montgomery and Frances Carroll to remain trustees, but makes clear he isn't happy.

"Ask yourself how would you feel if the governor asked and you did the honorable thing and put the university first, and did nothing wrong," said Dorris, a lawyer from LeRoy, just outside Bloomington.

Quinn asked for the trustees to resign on the recommendation of the Illinois Admissions Review Commission, the panel he created following news reports the university's Urbana-Champaign campus tracked politically connected students through a special list and admitted some in spite of their academic credentials.

Two trustees, Lawrence Eppley and Niranjan Shah, resigned before Quinn's request.

The governor has said trustees who resigned in response to his request could be reappointed. More than 200 people have applied to be part of the board.

Trustees are expected at their September meeting to begin, among other things, weighing whether University President B. Joseph white and Urbana-Champaign Chancellor Richard Herman should lose their jobs over their roles in the admissions scandal.

Quinn's spokesman, Bob Reed, declined to say exactly how many the governor's staff is interviewing, but said there are no more than a few dozen.

"They're being considered, seriously considered, but I wouldn't call them finalists," Reed said.

Another trustee who resigned, Edward McMillan, said Thursday that he is one of those being interviewed, after talking Thursday with a member of Quinn's staff.

McMillan joined the board this year and was the only trustee appointed by Quinn before the governor named Christopher Kennedy and Lawrence Oliver II this week.

McMillan, a businessman and U of I graduate from Greenville in southern Illinois, says he's "troubled" that some trustees resigned while others refused and were allowed to stay. He can understand if those who did step down feel betrayed or at least uncomfortable with what happened.

"I would think for them that's got to be a tough situation," he said. "It appeared the governor was really moving down a track of making sure everybody did step aside, and I don't know what happened."

Schmidt, who has worked extensively on the university's medical school, has talked a lot about unfinished trustee business he'd like to wrap up.

He worries that he and the others who resigned with him won't be allowed back, part of what he called an ill-advised, blunt-force prescription for what ails the university as it tries to repair damage and remove the influence of money and political power from its admissions process.

"When you have a cancer you approach it surgically, with a scalpel, not with a chain saw."

Dorris, too, has talked about what might happen if most of the board is new. He has called in particular for trustees to hold White accountable for the admissions troubles and other failures, in Dorris's view, such as the school's virtual Global Campus and its inability attract students. White drew sharp criticism from the Admissions Review Commission for both failing to oversee the admissions process and improperly interfering with it.

But Dorris is also a graduate of the university's law school and longtime basketball season-ticket holder who says he hasn't missed more than a game or two in years. His closet, he said, holds "hundreds" of orange-and-blue T-shirts, polos and other pieces of Illini clothing.

Not being reappointed would be personally painful, Dorris said.

"Yes, it would hurt me very badly," he said. "There's just no other way to explain it. It would be very hurtful."

Former university President Stanley Ikenberry, who said during testimony to the commission that every trustee except for perhaps McMillan should go, sympathizes with Dorris and Schmidt.

"But I think if one looks at the long-term interest of the university at this point, we need to make a new start," Ikenberry said. "We need to move forward."