The Higher Education of Roland W. Burris

Although under indictment for attempting to sell Barack Obama’s seat in the U.S. Senate to the highest bidder, Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich recently named Roland W. Burris to fill the position.

The Illinois secretary of state has vowed not to certify the appointment, and the Democratic leadership in the U.S. Senate has vowed not to seat any appointee named by Blagojevich. Politically, the Senate is between a rock and a hard place. While standing firm against the alleged corruption of Blagojevich, the 99 white senators do not want to be placed in a position where they appear to be denying a seat to a man who would be the chamber’s only black member.

But the Senate leadership gained some cover when President-elect Obama went on record as saying, “Roland Burris is a good man and a fine public servant, but the Senate Democrats made it clear weeks ago that they cannot accept an appointment made by a governor who is accused of selling this very Senate seat.”

If he wins the seat, Burris will be the sixth African American to serve in the U.S. Senate.

Roland Burris is a native of Centralia, Illinois. In 1959 he graduated from Southern Illinois University where he played football and was on the wrestling team. After studying international law at the University of Hamburg, Burris received his law degree in 1963 at Howard University.

Burris was the first African American to be named a federal bank examiner for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in the U.S. Treasury Department. Later, as an officer of the Continental Illinois National Bank, now part of Bank of America, he headed a commercial division that dealt with minority business development.

In 1979 Burris was elected comptroller of the state of Illinois. He was the first African American elected to statewide office. After serving for 12 years in this position, Burris was elected attorney general of Illinois. He has been an unsuccessful candidate for governor, mayor of Chicago, and the Senate seat to which he has now been appointed.

He now practices law and is CEO of Burris & Lebed Consulting. He is also an adjunct professor at Southern Illinois University.

Burris is one member of a highly educated family. Burris’ wife and daughter both hold educational doctorates. His son is a lawyer.