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University of Illinois chancellor resigns in wake of admissions scandal

U.S. Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) walks with University of Illinois chancellor Richard H. Herman as the two make their way to a meeting with other school representatives in Champaign, Illinois, on Wednesday, May 27, 2009.

CHICAGO — Embattled University of Illinois ChancellorRichard Hermanannounced his resignation Tuesday, marking a near-wholesale turnover of the university’s most senior leadership.

University and state leaders lauded Herman’s departure as a significant move that will allow the university to move beyond an admissions scandal that rattled the UrbanaChampaign campus and caused other universities nationwide to re-examine their admissions policies.

“”There are few universities in the country that have ever taken comparable steps to turn the page,”” said former U. of I. presidentStanley Ikenberry, a nationally renowned educator who will return as the interim president Jan. 1. “”What we have here is the opening of a new chapter with most of the trauma of the last four or five months behind us.””

Herman’s resignation follows that of PresidentB. Joseph White, who will step down at the end of the year. Six university trustees also have been replaced after revelations by the Chicago Tribune of preferential admissions practices that allowed applicants connected to trustees, lawmakers and other powerful people to get admitted over more-qualified students.

During the past three weeks, Herman negotiated a plan to resign on his own terms: He’ll give up the top campus job Monday and forgo a $300,000 retention bonus he was due to receive in June. However, he will step into a newly created position, special assistant to the interim president, and retain his nearly $400,000-a-year salary through June.

Then, he will take a $244,000 sabbatical next year, as allowed in his original contract, before returning to the faculty in 2011 to teach two classes a year. His contract had called for him to teach four classes if he returned to the faculty.

A mathematics professor by training, Herman, 68, will move to the College of Education to focus on an ongoing national program to improve the number and quality of teachers going into the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

The university’s board of trustees is expected to act on Herman’s resignation Friday.

“”It seems like a very generous arrangement,”” said engineering professorJohn Prussing, a member of the faculty Senate and president of the campus chapter of the American Association of University Professors. “”But I think it’s good that he stepped down. The campus can get moving forward and not have to worry about that. Everyone was sort of waiting for the other shoe to drop and now it has.””

Herman was at the center of the controversy over the university’s irregular admissions practices. He oversaw a system that tracked hundreds of politically connected applicants, known at the undergraduate level as Category I, at times overruling admissions officials who thought the students should be denied.

When he pushed the law school dean to admit subpar students, he offered scholarship money to recruit better students to offset the damage.

He also helped secure a high-paying university job for a former trustee’s future son-in-law, a Dutch citizen seeking work in the United States. Herman created a position without a search, dipped into campus reserves to cover the $115,000 annual salary, and suggested offering him a spot in a Ph.D. program if it would help the employee obtain a visa.

A state commission, formed in response to Tribune stories in May, investigated U. of I.’s admissions abuses and concluded that Herman was “”the ultimate decision-maker”” for the clouted applicants. The faculty and student Senate voted last month to urge the trustees to replace him.

Herman has apologized repeatedly for his role in the scandal, and said in a speech last month that he had “”seriously considered”” resigning during the summer but instead decided “”to fight doggedly for the chance to stay at my work.””

Ikenberry said White’s resignation in late September changed the calculation. “”That certainly helped set a pattern, set a framework for his thinking about this,”” he said.

In an e-mail Tuesday to faculty, students and staff, Herman, who has worked at the university for 11 years as provost and then as chancellor, called his tenure “”the great privilege of my life.””

“”I will not reiterate the complicated and agonizing steps that have brought us to this place, except to say that I regret the circumstances. I’m confident that Illinois will be stronger for all that we have learned from the controversy,”” he wrote.

Herman did not return calls from the Tribune.

His resignation is sandwiched between two events in which he played a significant role. Last week he celebrated a $14 million donation to establish a Brazilian studies institute, and this weekend he will host a major conference on the future of higher education.

Michael Ross, director of the university’s Krannert Center for the Performing Arts and an outspoken supporter of Herman’s, said it was hard to accept the resignation.

“”Richard is one of the most deeply soulful, intelligent, imaginative, empathetic and creative leaders in higher education. His Renaissance-type spirit … has been both inspiring and highly aspirational for those of us who have had the privilege of working with him and under his leadership,”” Ross said.

As chancellor, Herman created the Illinois Promise scholarship program that has provided more than 1,000 low-income students with financial aid and a pledge to graduate debt-free. He has enhanced ethnic and multiracial studies programs, and created a Faculty Excellence program to help recruit and retain 100 top professors. He led the effort to create the Institute for Genomic Biology.

Gov.Pat Quinn, a U. of I. trustee who appointed the state commission to investigate admissions practices, said the resignation is “”important for the university to keep moving forward.””

“”I just think the university will do well with new leadership,”” he said. As for the details of Herman’s new employment deal, Quinn said: “”The board should examine all of that and decide what’s appropriate.””

U. of I. trusteeTimothy Koritzsaid the resignation spared Herman and the school from a difficult termination hearing.

“”I don’t know that his position would have survived that inquiry,”” Koritz said. “”It’s nice that the university does not have to go through that painful process.””

U. of I. Board ChairmanChristopher Kennedyagreed the university will benefit from the top administrators leaving on their own accord instead of facing contract battles or other adversarial outcomes. He praised Herman’s accomplishments and said the consulting position will allow the university to draw on his expertise during the transition.

“”We are very lucky to have Richard available to us to consult and direct and opine on the issues that we are going to face,”” Kennedy said. “”When somebody criticizes this deal, try to imagine the university ignoring somebody with that stature and that thoughtfulness and it’s crazy. … There are very few people who have his track record in the United States.””

The university does not plan to appoint an interim chancellor, Kennedy said. The duties will be split between Ikenberry and interim provostRobert Easter, who has been in that position since the former provost left earlier this year. The new president, expected to be named before the start of next school year, will lead the chancellor search, Kennedy said.

Bernard Judge, who served on the state’s Admissions Review Commission, said he thinks Herman’s resignation could mark the end of the fallout from the scandal.

“”With the other reforms they have put in place, I would say this brings it to the end,”” he said. “”Assuming the reforms have been implemented, there’s nothing left to do but wish them luck. It’s a great university.””


(Chicago Tribune correspondentMonique Garciacontributed to this report.)


(c) 2009, Chicago Tribune.

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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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