U of I still haunted by ghosts of corruption

 
 
Published10/26/2009 12:03 AM

Just in time for Halloween, two new ghosts are haunting the University of Illinois.

These new ghosts aren't invisible, like the legendary hobgoblin in the campus English Building that is known to flick the lights off and on and slam doors.

 

The new U of I ghosts are real flesh and blood, not apparitions like those in Lincoln Hall sometimes seen peering out of a third-floor window.

The new goblins are actually on the university payroll, unlike the long-rumored poltergeist in the Psychology Building. That ghost causes students to feel chilly breezes and hear voices.

The new ghosts at the U of I even have names.

Richard Herman and Joe White.

Herman and White used to run the university as chancellor and president, respectively, until recently resigning those positions during the storied university's scariest chapter.

But just like wicked spirits that infest the rafters of old houses, the former leaders at U of I will still be present.

Herman's arrangement is the most ghastly. Even though he was considered intimately linked to corrupt admissions schemes that have scarred and tainted U of I's standing, the former chancellor is being kept on as a "special assistant to the interim president."

Maybe he will assist to keep U of I free of his own plots and plans that would further wreck its reputation.

Might I suggest that Herman be kept away from computers in his new "role." His name appeared on thousands of university e-mails that described special treatment given to applications submitted by politically connected students.

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Whatever Herman will actually do from now until next June, he will keep his $395,000-a-year salary.

Next summer we know exactly what Herman will do for his state university paycheck.

Nothing.

In the most shortsighted and insulting part of Herman's platinum parachute, he will be allowed to take a year off with pay.

From July 2010 until July 2011, Herman will be paid his faculty salary of $244,000.

What do the students and taxpayers receive for their money, nearly a quarter-million dollars?

Not a thing. Herman won't even have to call in.

They call it a "sabbatical" in the education world.

In the real world we call it a no-show job.

Down at the U.S. Attorney's Office they called it ghost payrolling and people have gone to prison for it. But no criminal charges have been filed against anybody in the U of I admissions scandal.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In fact, the newly formed U of I board of trustees OK'd the deal and actually seemed to think it was a good thing.

The board's executive committee­ - Chairman Christopher Kennedy, board members Ed McMillan and Pam Strobel - were unanimous in supporting Herman's new contract. They seemed to believe that in foregoing a $300,000 scheduled bonus, Herman was being punished enough for whatever his misdeeds might have been.

Chairman Kennedy, fumbling his first carry worse than any Illini running back this 1-6 season, said he believes Herman "will be acting in the best interests of the university and keep himself out of areas that are no longer his responsibility."

Well that will certainly be true when Herman, 67, is on his one-year paid vacation. Once he returns, Herman will continue to be paid $244,000 per year to teach two classes.

Ex-president Joe White, who for years rode shotgun as the special admission's vehicle was on cruise control, also will return to the classroom as a business professor.

He will earn an annual salary of about $300,000 to teach ethics and leadership.

Do we really want somebody who has been a part of an ethical breach of leadership to be teaching our college-age kids about ethics and leadership?

And White, 62, will keep working on a university fundraising campaign that he started as president. Now that makes sense, doesn't it?

The board, which is made up of mostly new members appointed by Gov. Pat Quinn, seemed content that White had paid a stiff enough price by sacrificing his scheduled $475,000 bonus.

Universities buy out the legitimate contracts of college coaches who don't make bowl games. Wouldn't the state be better served if U of I did the same thing with Herman and White?

It is obvious that the disconnect between Champaign-Urbana and Reality has not been repaired. Perhaps those who are put in charge of operating public universities in Illinois ought to take a course or two in public service. Or maybe they just need an injection of common sense.

But that is a long-term solution.

For now, the University of Illinois could just use a good exorcism.

• Chuck Goudie, whose column appears each Monday, is the chief investigative reporter at ABC 7 News in Chicago. The views in this column are his own and not those of WLS-TV. He can be reached by e-mail at chuckgoudie@gmail.com and followed at twitter.com/ChuckGoudie.

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