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State Senate sides with Glenn Poshard over Gov. Quinn in rejection of SIU board picks

Southern Illinois University President President Glenn Poshard. (AP Fiile Photo/The Southern Alan Rogers)

Southern Illinois University President President Glenn Poshard. (AP Fiile Photo/The Southern, Alan Rogers)

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Updated: February 27, 2013 8:40PM

SPRINGFIELD — In a racially charged vote, the Senate served up a dramatic defeat for Gov. Pat Quinn Wednesday in his bid to strip the Southern Illinois University board of appointees aligned with university president Glenn Poshard, the former candidate for governor.

Unprecedented in recent memory, the Senate’s unanimous rejection of three Quinn appointees to the SIU board was led by Downstate Democrats who oppose administration efforts to reinstall an anti-Poshard trustee, southern Illinois podiatrist Roger Herrin, as chairman.

Quinn nominated Belleville lawyer Sandra Cook, former Northeastern Illinois University administrator Melvin Terrell and former State Board of Education spokesman Lee Milner as replacements for those who were removed from the SIU board.

Before those appointments, Quinn’s administration knocked off the SIU board Edwardsville school superintendent Edward Hightower, East Alton lawyer John Simmons and O’Fallon contractor Mark Hinrichs.

The three were involved two years ago in a bid to drive Herrin out then as the board’s chairman after they and Poshard expressed complaints about Herrin’s job performance, accusing him of micromanaging university affairs.

But in a harsh repudiation of the Democratic governor, the Senate Wednesday rejected Quinn’s choices, without a single senator voting in favor of Cook, Terrell or Milner. Twenty-three senators voted against the governor’s nominees, and 32 others took no position and voted “present.”

“Gov. Quinn is disappointed that members of the Senate would dismiss three SIU graduates and stellar candidates for the university board — including two veterans and a national leader for diversity in higher education— without even the courtesy of a hearing,” Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said.

She denied that Quinn has his eye on putting Herrin back in control of the SIU board or that the governor has any personal beef with Poshard.

“Gov. Quinn selected three honest, dedicated public servants after careful review to increase enrollment, advance academic achievement and build SIU into a world-class institution,” she said. “The students of Southern Illinois University’s three campuses deserve better than they got today.”

Herrin, a Quinn appointee and one-time SIU board chairman, has clashed sharply with Poshard over his management of the university, blaming the 1998 Democratic gubernatorial nominee for not stemming declining enrollment and doing a poor job of overseeing university finances.

Herrin owns nursing homes and banks and has donated more than $27,000 to Quinn, state records show.

In a blistering floor speech Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader James Clayborne (D-Belleville) accused Herrin of not making minority enrollment a priority and questioned the desire to put him back in charge of the SIU board.

“It concerns me there’s a push to make this individual the chairman of the board. What direction are we going? What message are we sending by appointing or placing an individual on this board, who does not believe that everybody should receive an opportunity to go to college, that we’ll close the doors on those individuals not because of their merit, not because of the hard work they put into it, but because they’re a minority?” Clayborne said.

“This is not the ‘50s or ‘40s or ‘30s. We’re beyond that,” he continued. “We should be looking at people based on their merits, but I hate to say there are some people who want to take us back to the past. I tell you we should not go back to the past.”

Herrin did not respond to messages left at his office and with his wife.

Sen. William Haine (D-Alton), whose district includes SIU’s Edwardsville campus, said he knew little about the Quinn appointees’ backgrounds and questioned the governor’s desire to see three pro-Poshard trustees driven from the board.

“Looking at it as a legislator, it ain’t broke. So why are people being publicly dismissed without a goodbye or saying thank you for your service?” Haine said.

“I’m not on the board of trustees. But I do trust the board members that I know who have invested time and treasure in the school, and they say [Poshard] is doing a good job. I don’t have any evidence to the contrary except rumors that some guy, Dr. Herrin, doesn’t like Poshard. But that’s between Dr. Herrin and other members of the board. I’d guess the majority of the board is satisfied with Glenn Poshard,” Haine said.

Poshard could not be reached Wednesday.

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