In a one-on-one interview, Professor Ikenberry says what happened was wrong and he wants the state's flagship public university to become the model for fair admissions practices nationwide. Watch the complete interview
The man's gentle smile hasn't changed from an earlier portrait to today. But behind it, there's a ferocity to president-elect Stanley Ikenberry's loyalty to his academic home for thirty years.
"One of the reasons the admissions incident received so much attention is that it is the big elephant exception to a sterling rule which is incredible integrity in all aspects of the university's operation," said Ikenberry.
Ikenberry says the clout scandal has been cleaned up by state hearings into muddy dealings. The commission heard about students with connections to lawmakers and other VIPs getting in ahead of other students. And he regrets that so many students who may have been the next person to get in at Champaign-Urbana were denied.
"Absolutely, they are real people, and those are the kids that when the chancellor of the Urbana campus apologizes as he did to the Mikva commission, those are the young people and their parents and family to whom he is apologizing," said Ikenberry.
Ikenberry replaces B. Joseph White, who stepped down because of the scandal. But the chancellor of the Champaign-Urbana campus, Richard Herman, who reports to Ikenberry, has not. Ikenberry would not say that Herman should remain in his role.
"Richard and others recognize that also he has made some mistakes and this whole issue is what the board committee is going to be looking at," said Ikenberry.
The new president says in his previous tenure he inquired about students seeking admission, but never called the admissions office.
"I had pressures in selected areas but absolutely no irresistible pressures as far as admissions were concerned," said Ikenberry. "
The university is proposing a firewall of sorts between senior administration officials and the office of admissions. Ikenberry promises that given what his 160 year old institution has gone through, U. of I. will strive to be a model of fairness.
About 800 students were on annual clout lists since 2005. It's not clear how many would have qualified for entry on their own but the acceptance rate for those on the list is higher than average. This year's freshman class at Urbana-Champaign numbered about 7200 students.