U. of I. in Spotlight After Chancellor's Resignation, Email Violations

University also named 'top party school' by Princeton Review

Watch the video: The University of Illinois' Chancellor fails to comply with Freedom of Information requests. But the school gets high marks as the nation's top party school. What is happening at the state's flagship college campus?

The University of Illinois was the focus of two front-page stories in Sunday's Chicago Tribune, concerning their ranking as the nation's No. 1 party school, a judge's decision last week to allow an academic freedom lawsuit against the university, and failure to turn over private emails about university business requested by an FOIA.

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On Chicago Tonight, we'll discuss those stories and Chancellor Phyllis Wise's resignation last Thursday with our panel: State Sen. Kwame Raoul (D), former counsel for the City Colleges of Chicago and member of the National Association of College and University Attorneys; Stephen Murray, a high school counselor at Notre Dame College Prep in Niles, who is the past president of the Illinois School Counselor Association; and Lois Calian Trautvetter, director of  Northwestern University's Higher Education Administration and Social Policy program, and author of the book Putting Students First: How Colleges Develop Students Purposefully

Below, highlights from Phil Ponce’s discussion with Raoul, Trautvetter, and Murray. Please note that questions and answers have been condensed. Watch the video for the complete discussion.

Phil Ponce: Sen. Raoul, what was your reaction to the latest revelation that the University of Illinois, some of their top administrators were using private email to conduct university business and they were attempting to circumvent state law by doing that?

Sen. Kwame Raoul: There are a couple things of concern there. One: they apparently through their ethics office they communicated that using private email was not in and of itself going to exempt you from having to disclose what you communicated in those emails. So you’re violating your own policy there.

But secondly, it’s just the public perception from just secretly trying to do this to prevent information from being disclosed. There could be good reason to want to keep information private as to what the strategies and the preliminary policies of the institution are. And there is actually an exemption to FOIA—to the Freedom of Information Act—based on preliminary drafts that are not final because you don’t necessarily want to disclose thoughts in the process of development. And so it could be some of those communications could’ve been exempt anyway.

PP: One of the topics that was covered in those private emails had to do with the retraction of a job offer, and this is a story that’s gotten a lot of coverage to Steven Salaita because of hundreds of profane and inflammatory comments about Israel on social media. The university’s been heavily criticized in many corners for that, including from different university groups as an infringement on academic freedom and so forth. How might that impact the recruitment of top-notch faculty to the University of Illinois?

Lois Calian Trautvetter: I actually believe that all of these different incidents are not impacting University of Illinois in a larger way. I still think it’s a very strong institution. It’s still going to be very attractive to a lot of faculty members. 

PP: They’ve had a slew of issues but on top of this, this annual Princeton Review survey calling it the country’s “top party school.” Steve Murray, what do you say to parents who ask you about that?

Steve Murray: I think parents always have to take some of these surveys with a grain of salt, and look at the methodology that was used, and talk to alums of these institutions and get a real good perspective on what actually goes on in these colleges and universities. Is it fair? I mean Princeton Review has named a lot of different schools “top party” schools.

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