U of I Board of Trustees: Who Are They?

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       has
once again postponed their decision on “honorably
retiring” the controversial Chief Illiniwek mascot,
scheduled for their March 11th meeting. Trustee
Frances Carroll, the recent Blagojevich appointee who
had proposed the mascot’s removal, made the Frances Carroll, appointed
by Governor Blagojevich in
2003, is serving the remainder
of Thomas Lamont’s
term after Lamont resigned
to become vice-chairman of
the Illinois Board of Higher Education.
Carroll is an award-winning public
school teacher, counselor and principal,
who has administered programs for the
mentally handicapped, staff development
for special education teachers and
other divisions in the Chicago Public
Carroll’s appointment opened the
way for legislative confirmation of three
earlier Blagojevich appointees, which
had been held up by Sen. Ricky Hendon’s
(D-Chicago) insistence that the
Governor appoint a black woman. Carroll
is a Democrat.
Marjorie E. Sodemann, a
local Republican Party
committeewoman and former
Champaign County
Board member, was
appointed by Ryan in 2001.
She has been a policy staffer in the Governor’s
Office, a department head and
manager for the Secretary of State’s
Office and a state auditor, as well as
supervisor of Champaign Township for
many years. Sodemann is the only
trustee without any higher education.
She has stated publicly that she was surprised
at being asked to serve on the
Board, but is pleased to do so.
Devon C. Bruce, born in
Champaign-Urbana, was
appointed by Governor
Blagojevich in 2003. He is
an attorney with Power,
Rogers & Smith in Chicago,
which donated about $135,000 to the
Governor’s campaign. Bruce personally
donated $500. The firm seems to primarily
deal in malpractice and personal
injury, but not only individual cases.
They represented the Center for Auto
Safety, founded by Ralph Nader, and
Trial Lawyers for Public Justice against
Goodyear Tires in a tread separation
case they claimed involved almost one
hundred accidents and forty deaths.
Bruce helped his firm’s lead attorney
in the Willis family’s lawsuit after the
fatal accident that led to the “licenses for
bribes” scandal involving former Governor
Ryan’s tenure as secretary of state.
Joseph Power, a partner with the firm,
received the Illinois State Bar Association’s
highest award for that investigation,
which led to dozens of indictments
and is credited with resulting in the
state’s new ethics bill. Another partner,
Todd Smith, has been elected president
of the American Trial Lawyers Association.
The firm won more in settlement
dollars last year than any other area firm
with 11 cases worth $145 million.
Niranjan S. Shah, appointed
by Governor Blagojevich
in 2003, has been CEO since
1974 of the well-connected
Globetrotters Engineering
Corporation, which gave
nearly $30,000 to Blagojevich’s campaign.
Shah’s company came under fire
late last year for this contribution
because of its involvement in the $6-15
billion expansion of O’Hare airport in
Chicago. Globetrotters Engineering is
part of a construction consortium that
stands to take in $15-20 million for
designing three new or expanded runways.
Shah has served on the Board of
Regents, the Chicago Economic Development
Commission of Chicago and the
transition team for former Governor Jim
Edgar, among other high-profile activities.
He is also a Democrat and the only
person of color on the Board other than
Robert Y. Sperling, a partner
at the bicoastal law firm
of Winston & Strawn, which
held a Blagojevich fundraiser
and donated $15,000. The
firm is 150 years old, with
offices in L.A. and D.C., and has a long
history of representing big corporations.
Almost from their start, Winston &
Strawn represented railroads in their juggernaut
drive west, eventually inventing
the “air rights” concept that allowed railroads
to sell off chunks of property without
losing deed to the land. During
World War II, the firm defended retail
giant Montgomery Ward when the company
refused to accept a governmentmandated
labor deal.Most recently,Winston
& Strawn defended Microsoft
against federal anti-trust charges in 2001.
James Thompson worked for the firm
before becoming Governor of Illinois,
and afterwards returned to the firm as
chair. Sperling is a political Independent.
Robert F. Vickrey, a Ryan
appointee (2001) and
Republican committeeman,
has been vice president of
Legislative Affairs and Economic
Development at
Miller Group Media in LaSalle, IL, since
1968. Miller Group Media is a large
media conglomerate, owning several
newspapers and radio stations around
Illinois and Indiana. The company was
founded by Peter Miller, a former head
of the Washington Times-Herald who
returned to Illinois to expand his media
holdings, according to his recent obituary.
Miller was also involved in promoting
business and education, including
Interstate 39 and Illinois Valley Community
Jeffrey Gindorf, M.D., is the
only current trustee who
was elected under the old
system, in 1992. Gindorf ’s
first term ended in 1999, at
which time then-Governor
Ryan appointed him. Gindorf is a
Democrat. He earned his M.D. from the
University of Illinois at Chicago after
first graduating from UIUC with a BS in
Mechanical Engineering. In addition to
his own practice and other activities,
Gindorf volunteers at McHenry County
Health Department Clinic, which provides
free health care to the indigent.
Another doctor, Kenneth
D. Schmidt, was also
appointed in 1999 by then-
Governor Ryan and also
earned his M.D. from UIChicago.
Schmidt is a
The question, then, is what effect
these connections have in a state whose
political culture has been described as
one in which “personal loyalties” and
“horse-trading” dominate “ideology”
(Chronicle of Higher Education, 10/4/02).
The answer is we do not really know.
Though trustees meetings are open by
law, all this means is that anything anyone
doesn’t want heard gets said outside
the meeting or in executive session.
There are of course the occasional conflicts,
but most of the horse-trading
seems to happen over the phone
between meetings. Witness the sudden
evaporation of Carroll’s votes to “honorably
retire” the UIUC mascot in November.
The trustees and other insiders deny
that the call came from the Governor,
upon whom the trustees depend for
reappointment and possibly other business,
but the suggestion persists. It is
even suggested that the issue of the Chief
will not be seriously confronted until
after Governor Blagojevich has secured a
second term, four years from now, due to
his deep concerns over losing southern
Illinois votes.
A related question concerns the influence
of former Board Chair Gerald Shea,
a vocal proponent of the UIUC mascot
whose “connections” were considered
“extensive enough that his influence
[was] unlikely to wane considerably after
Governor Ryan’s term end[ed]” last January,
according to Charles Wheeler who
covered Illinois politics for the Sun-
Times for 23 years (Chronicle 10/4/02).
Shea, a Democratic lawmaker for
many years and former majority leader
of the Illinois House of Representatives,
started his own powerful lobbying firm
after leaving office in 1977, representing
Anheuser-Busch and General Motors
among others. Governor Ryan reportedly
considered Shea a close friend and
confidant. Insiders insist Shea exerts
influence almost as an invisible member
of the Board.
How much influence the Alumni
Association is still able to exert, even
though the nomination process is formally
out of their control, is another
question. They have their influence on
the Legislature, which approves the Governor’s
appointments to the Board and
decides the University budget. Shea is an
alumnus, and, as Board chair, was by all
accounts intimately involved in this
process, using his political connections
and other lobbying resources to garner
more money from Springfield, particularly
in the area of construction and
high-tech investment on the three campuses.
Pressure is also coming from the Legislature
itself, where conservative lawmakers
are quivering over the Board’s
recent decision to grant health benefits
to same-sex partners of University
employees. Proposals bouncing around
Springfield include bringing back
statewide election of trustees, some say
with the effect that the Board could
become more conservative as a result of
representing more regions of the state
outside Chicago.
As it stands now, Chancellor Cantor
has taken the most public heat over the
UIUC mascot, even as pro-mascot
trustees like Eppley admit that the writing
is on the wall and it is only a matter
of time before the Chief is gone. Members
of the public who question the
Chief tradition are affronted in the local
press, as is Frances Carroll, while the rest
of the trustees remain largely invisible.
Yet it is precisely the Board that can lift
the decision above the local divisiveness,
affirming that the UIUC is not merely a
venue for local sports and entertainment
but an institution with national, even
world, standing, for which they are ultimately
responsible. And they must
choose to act not simply as an instrument
of Illinois state government but in
the interest of higher learning.
When the trustees will actually make
a decision is anybody’s guess, as is
whether the University will actually suffer
the predicted dropoff in donations as
a result. In any case, one thing is certain:
the contours of this process will almost
surely never be known.
announcement. Carroll had withdrawn her proposal
once before, just prior to the November meeting, saying
the votes were no longer there.What happened to them
at that time is the subject of much rumor and speculation
since, just two weeks before, Carroll had expressed
confidence that she had six out of ten votes lined up.
The vote was rescheduled for the March meeting, the
next that would take place in Urbana-Champaign.
Then a series of events occurred that were bound to
affect the way trustees see the issue. President of the
University James Stukel unexpectedly announced in
January that he will take early retirement next year.
Chancellor Nancy Cantor, who became the subject of
organized vitriol within the local community for suggesting
it was time to eliminate the mascot, resigned
effective in July. And the student government, which
previously took a position in line with Cantor’s,
announced that it was preparing a student referendum
on the issue that is expected to reflect the local forces
that have dogged the Chancellor. Several Board members
expressed publicly that they would like to postpone
thier decision until after the student referendum, and,
shortly thereafter, Carroll again withdrew her proposal.
Regardless of these events, the Board of Trustees
remains the final arbiter of the issue, and public attention
is now focused there. Yet few outside the tight-knit
community of administrators, lobbyists and interlocking
committees that govern the Illinois system of higher
education can say they know much about the
trustees, their authority or what influences them. Far
from an independent committee of disinterested public
servants, or educators who have risen to positions of
authority, the Board is made up of well connected
political appointees who are mostly lawyers, doctors,
construction contractors and political operatives, and
many of them or their employers are big campaign
Established over a hundred years ago as the one
body responsible directly to the legislature for the University
of Illinois system of public higher education, the
Board of Trustees has almost unlimited authority to
run the University as it sees fit. In fact, the regulations,
known as the “ Statutes,” that govern the Board’s activities
were written and passed by the Board itself, and
only the Board can amend them. The same goes for the
“ General Rules” that supplement the “ Statutes.”All the
authority of the University’s president, the chancellors
of each campus (Chicago, Springfield and Urbana-
Champaign), and their respective administrations are
delegated by the Board.
For most of the Board’s history, individual trustees
were elected to staggered six-year terms. The Alumni
Association kept the closed nomination process entirely
within its grip, filtering names through the alumni in
each political party to the respective legislative committees
and onto the statewide ballot. The fact that
almost no one outside the inner circles of university
alumni and administration knew much about the
nominees hardly seemed to matter – voters scratched
their heads over who they were and voted their party’s
Then in 1996 the Legislature threw out the process
of election altogether in favor of appointment by the
Governor, effectively deposing the Alumni Association
– reportedly a source of continuing friction behind
closed doors. The Legislature still approves the
appointments, and the Governor still theoretically
maintains a balance between Republicans and Democrats.
But critics have charged that the Board, and thus
the U of I system, is now for all intents and purposes an
arm of the Governor’s Office. Only the three student
trustees, one from each campus, are now elected. But
only one – selected by the Governor – gets to vote.
Of the current nine non-student trustees, five were
appointed by former Governor Ryan. Of these only Jeffrey
Gindorf had previously been elected, then
appointed when his term expired. In the past fourteen
months, Governor Blagojevich has appointed four,
including Frances Carroll, maker and unmaker of the
recent ill-fated proposal on the mascot. Four are
Democrats, three Republicans. Two are Independents,
but both of these have substantial Republican connections.
Most attended the University of Illinois at some
point, but Marjorie Sodemann did not attend college at
all and Robert Vickrey did not attend a university.
Sodemann and Vickrey are also the only two not based
in Chicago. None except Carroll is an educator.
Three trustees – Lawrence Eppley, Sodemann and
Vickrey – have been outspoken defenders of Chief
Illiniwek. All three are Ryan appointees. Except for Carroll,
all four Blagojevich appointees have stated publicly
that they are undecided on the issue. One of these –
construction CEO Niranjan Shah – has been conspicuously
absent during recent discussions of the mascot
issue. In November Shah was reportedly in the building
when the discussion was going on, but only took his
seat when the Board had moved on to other business.
The current voting student trustee, Nate Allen, once
supported keeping the mascot but has stated that he
has changed his mind.
Considerable power is vested in the chair of
the Board, a position held by Lawrence C.
Eppley since former chair Gerald Shea’s
abrupt retirement last year with two years
left on his term. Shea reportedly had close
ties with former Governor George Ryan
and is very close to the current Governor. Eppley in
turn is said to be quite close to Shea.
Eppley is head corporate lawyer for the Chicagobased
law firm of Bell, Boyd & Lloyd. A Ryan appointee
in 2001, Eppley describes himself as a political Independent,
but his firm’s “GOP connections,” as Crain’s
Chicago Business points out, “are impeccable.” Among
the firm’s partners is Lee A. Daniels, a former Illinois
House minority leader who resigned two years ago as
his party’s state chairman after allegations that staff
members did political work on taxpayer time, and Jeffrey
Ladd, who served on the Metra board with Donald
Udstuen, a co-defendant of former Governor George
One of the largest investment company practices in
the US with over 200 lawyers in its Chicago offices
alone, Bell Boyd occupies seven floors of its building
and represents upwards of 600 mutual funds or their
boards worth well over $400 billion. The firm has
recently absorbed a number of smaller firms and
attracted lawyers from others, including the intellectual
property boutique Rockey, Milnamow & Katz, which
represented the University of Illinois until the firm dissolved
in 2002.
Eppley’s firm has made a priority of intellectual
property (patent prosecution), especially in biotechnology,
in the years since Eppley joined the Board of
Trustees. One patent attorney with Bell, Boyd & Lloyd,
for example, is Robert M. Barret, President of the Intellectual
Property Association of Chicago, whose membership
includes almost 900 attorneys. And the firm’s
involvement in intellectual property ranges into venture
capital, too, particularly in medical and biotechnology
– which is related to Eppley’s work on the
Eppley made the news before becoming chair for his
involvement over the last couple of years in the University’s
venture capital debacle. The original idea was to
funnel state money directly into “start-up” businesses,
especially spin-offs of state-funded university research,
but political backlash forced a shift to less direct funding.

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