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Richard H. Herman served as the Chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign from 2005-2009. He previously served there as Provost and Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs since 1998. As provost he garnered support for, and administered, a “faculty excellence” program designed to bring established faculty to the institution. Over the course of his administrative tenure, sponsored research at the university increased by more than 50%.
Herman promoted private sector partnerships by supporting the creation of a Research Park and, in particular, by helping to secure a $500 million grant from BP in partnership with Berkeley. Commitments to the creation of the Institute for Genomic Biology and the garnering of the Petascale Award with IBM from the National Science Foundation ensured continued scientific and technological leadership for the university
Herman helped to secure a number of gifts including $100 million from alumnus Tom Siebel for support of research in science and technology, $14 million for a Center for Brazilian Studies from the Lemann Family and an anonymous gift of $40 million for undergraduate student support.
President Bush appointed Herman to his Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, serving on subcommittees which advised the President on nanotechnology, networking and information technology and university-private sector partnerships. He co-chaired the High Performance Computing Inititiative for the Council on Competitiveness as well as serving on the steering committee for its Energy, Security, Innovation and Sustainability Initiative and the Council’s Executive Committee.
Herman served as chair of the Council of Presidents for the University Research Association in 2007. He also served on, and was chair of, the National Science Foundation's Advisory Committee. Herman's research specializes on mathematical physics and operator algebras.
The Rainbow Push Program named Herman as Educator of the Year in 2009.
Herman received the Malone Award from APLU in 2009.
The Chicago Tribune reported on Friday, May 29, 2009 that several students had been admitted to the University based upon connections or recommendations by Board of Trustees, Chicago politicians, and members of the Rod Blagojevich administration. The improprieties occurred, according to the Tribune, on the Urbana-Champaign campus headed by Herman. The Tribune obtained through a FOIA request several emails between Herman, then law dean Heidi Hurd and others spanning a number of years and establishing without any doubt that preferential treatment had been given to well-connected students. The Tribune also reported on one case in which the University's president, B. Joseph White, had received a recommendation for a relative of a subsequently convicted fundraiser Tony Rezko to be admitted. The Tribune posted emails of Herman to admissions staff pushing for less qualified students to be accepted, citing particularly an exchange between Herman, admissions officers, and then-dean of the college of law Heidi Hurd. The controversy has sparked condemnation from student trustee Paul Schmitt and state lawmakers. It is quite unusual for deans, let alone provosts, to interfere with admissions staff in deciding whether or not to admit individual applicants. Their usual role is to provide guidance and direction as to admissions policies.
As a result of the clout controversy, several state lawmakers including Representatives, Naomi Jakobsson, Chapin Rose, and Bill Black have called for legislative investigations. Chairman of the Illinois House of Higher Education Committee, Representative Mike Boland, has called for Herman's and White's removal, as well as several administrators including and members of the Board of Trustees, saying "They were trusted to protect our university. In my eyes, they failed in that regard and they should resign."
In September 2009, Urbana alumni in the Chicago area wrote to the governor and board of trustees praising Herman for his many accomplishments during his term as Chancellor. These included highlighting his fundraising leadership and efforts to raise the campus' share of the Brilliant Futures $2.25 billion campaign, his efforts to increase Urbana's research presence including leading in creating the Energy Biosciences Institute, a $500 million research program to study converting plant biomass to fuel, helping to create an outreach effort with Chicago Public Schools to increase recruitment of students and increasing diversity on campus, among other accomplishments.
After months of calls for his resignation, on 20 October 2009 Herman announced he would resign as Chancellor for his role in the controversy. He was replaced in August 2011 by Phyllis Wise, the former Interim President and current Provost of the University of Washington.