High school students, noted panel to explore political corruption in Illinois

April 4, 2013

Lisle, Illinois ~ They are supposed to stand up for what’s right and improve the lives of the people they represent.

But in Illinois, words like fraud, embezzlement, racketeering and financial mismanagement are all too frequently attached to the state’s elected officials.

Between 1976 and 2010, there were 1,828 political corruption charges in Illinois, according to a University of Illinois at Chicago report – and that doesn’t include former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s recent guilty plea to misappropriating hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds, or the guilty verdict handed down to Rita Crundwell, the former Dixon city clerk who was sentenced to more than 19 years in prison for bilking the small town out of $51 million.

“Governors and legislators have been convicted of a range of serious crimes, and it seems like our state is in the news almost daily because of indiscretions by elected municipal officeholders,” said Phil Hardy, assistant professor of Political Science at Benedictine University.

“A large-scale study indicates that Illinois is one of the most corrupt states in the country, and the problem isn’t going away,” he added. “Irresponsible fiscal management has also left Illinois arguably the least financially sustainable state in the Union.”

To make more young people aware of the problem, the Center for Civic Leadership (CCL) at Benedictine is inviting local high school students to attend a special presentation, “Corruption and Mismanagement in the Shadow of Lincoln,” as part of its annual Youth Government Day from 8:45 a.m.-2:15 p.m. on Thursday, April 4 in the University’s Krasa Student Center.

The presentation will feature a number of academics, citizen advocates and investigative journalists who will discuss several past corruption cases, the current political landscape, reform efforts and possible solutions.

Speakers include Madeleine Doubek, chief operating officer of Reboot Illinois, an organization that advocates for better government and citizen engagement; James Nowlan, senior fellow for the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana; Dick Simpson, professor and head of the Political Science department at University of Illinois at Chicago; John Hale, associate director of the Center for Civic Education; and Chicago Tribune reporters John Chase and Jeff Coen, who co-authored “Golden: How Rod Blagojevich Talked Himself out of the Governor’s Office and into Prison.”

Youth Government Day is sponsored by the CCL, which was established in 2005 under the direction of Benedictine University Distinguished Fellow and former Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan. The CCL seeks to shape a new generation of public leaders and responsible citizens through speakers, seminars and other activities.

High school students will have an opportunity to ask questions of each presenter and engage their peers in a dialogue throughout the day’s events.

“After describing these problems, we hope to make the case that one of the foundational remedies lies in improved civic education and public engagement,” Hardy said. “All young adults – not just those of voting age – have an obligation to get involved, perhaps one day as an elected officeholder. This problem might really hit home if students take pause to consider for a moment, ‘What would Lincoln think?’”

Seating is limited. Teachers must register for students to attend by Friday, March 29. To register or for more information, contact Priya Roberts at (630) 829-6460 or ccl@ben.edu.
 

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Benedictine University is an independent Roman Catholic institution located in Lisle, Illinois just 25 miles west of Chicago, and has branch campuses in Springfield, Illinois and Mesa, Arizona. Founded in 1887, Benedictine provides 55 undergraduate majors and 15 graduate and four doctoral programs. Benedictine University is ranked No. 1 among the country's fastest-growing campuses between 2002-2012 in The Chronicle of Higher Education's list of private nonprofit doctoral institutions, and Forbes magazine named Benedictine among "America's Top Colleges" for the fourth consecutive year in 2014. Benedictine University's Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) program is listed by Crain's Chicago Business as the sixth largest in the Chicago area in 2014.

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