Monday, June 8, 2009



State Representative Mike Boland, a Democrat from East Moline, IL, has asked Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan to hold legislative hearings on the “clout list” scandal at the University of Illinois, the system in which candidates for admission to my alma mater gained favorable treatment through (surprise!) political connections. In Illinois?! I’m shocked…shocked! Mr. Boland has also demanded that U of I President B. Joseph White and trustees who meddled in the admission process resign. The bloviating Mr. Boland says of Dr. White and the assorted trustees:

“They were trusted to protect our university. In my eyes, they failed in that regard and they should resign.”

Mr. Boland, by jumping on his soapbox in this case, joins a long list of blowhards who jump on any issue to get their names in the paper, get the attention of an apathetic electorate, and thus perhaps improve their chances of reelection by a an electorate that more and more comes to resemble Sponge Bob’s pal Patrick when it enters the voting booth, to wit “Hey, I know this guy’s name; I think I’ll vote for him.” Mr. Boland addresses none of the problems afflicting the U of I, which is at least as much my university as it is his; I don’t know if Mr. Boland is an alumnus and, even if he is, I’d be willing to compare the size of the checks I personally write to the U of I Foundation to those he personally writes, i.e., from his own account, not from public funds. Note that he calls for the resignation of none of the state legislators and other public servants who pushed “their” candidates for admission. Mr. Boland says these legislators must answer to the voters in the next election and thus will presumably have to answer for their actions that way. Thus, he bravely assumes that the highly informed and intensely interested electorate will take enough time away from “Three Men and a Boy,” “Marooned” (or whatever the latest idiotic cotton candy for the mind TV shows top the current popularity charts), and other such compelling prime time endeavors to pick up a newspaper and will endure the backbreaking mental task of remembering this scandal when legislative elections roll around in 2010. How will our brave legislators be able to face such demanding taskmasters?

Maybe the trustees should resign. I don’t know much about this particular crop of notables, but, traditionally, the post of U of I trustee is akin to the post of Professional Wrestling Commissioner of the State of Illinois (a post a friend of my dad actually held in the 1960s): a reward for loyally performing the function of political toady for many years or for a contribution strategically made, demanding little and conferring much in the way of prestige, perks, and incidental emoluments. A less circumspect observer than the Insightful Pontificator would refer to most such trustees, at least historically, as political hacks. They probably felt that bowing to pressure from the people who rewarded them their sinecures was part of their job description, or at least the price of keeping their posts. However, they should have known better, and probably should be forced to resign in order to be replaced by other hangers-on and wannabes with similar motivations and goals. This will, of course, accomplish much.

But should President White resign for bowing to pressure, if indeed he did, from people who control his ever tightening budget and are incessantly, but especially at budget time, making demands to “do me this favor”? Yes, he should have said “No!”, but this is Illinois and President White has responsibility for maintaining the academic reputation of one of the finest universities in the world on what is rapidly becoming a shoestring. To ask President White to resign as a result of the “clout list” scandal, while effectively exonerating the politicians who are constantly trying to muscle him, is a classic case of (and do I hate to use these words!) blaming the victim. (Paying Ron Zook a million a year, though…now that’s another matter.) But perhaps the worst, and most hypocritical, aspect of Mr. Boland’s plan, however, is that, if Speaker Madigan abets Mr. Boland’s grandstanding and holds the hearings Mr. Boland is demanding, those who were doing the muscling will be sitting in judgment of those whom they muscled. Only in Illinois…and maybe North Korea.

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