UI trustee voices concerns over impact of budget cuts

URBANA - The University of Illinois Board of Trustees needs to take action to maintain the quality of the university, whether that means seeking a tuition increase or a renewed commitment for state funding, said one trustee Thursday.

Trustee Jeff Gindorf questioned whether the board and the UI were prepared to deal with the potential effects of budget cuts. The board was meeting in Urbana.

Gindorf said he wanted more information about the budget and how the UI will deal with cuts, and he wants the public to know the quality of the university will be affected.

"We need to reassure the Legislature and the governor and the public we're spending their tax dollars wisely," Gindorf said. "If we go through that (belt-tightening) and find out we're running a lean operation here, we need to look at some other ways to support the institution and maintain quality ... and have the courage to do that."

The amount of state money that makes up the UI's budget has been steadily shrinking, and its funding level for the next fiscal year could be at about the same level as in 1998.

The UI is planning on cutting 1,100 jobs, including teaching assistants and lecturers, eliminating more than 1,000 course sections, and cutting money for matching research grants, library support services and new course development.

"How will we know if we're cutting into the quality?" said UI President James Stukel. "We are there, and no amount of administrative reorganization or administrative cuts are going to deal with this issue."

Stukel said the budget cuts threaten the UI's rankings, which is what attracts top faculty members and business recruiters here.

"I'm asked, what difference does it make if (the UI) is in the top 10 or the top 20? It makes a huge difference," he said.

In other business Thursday:

- Student Trustee Keely Stewart asked the board to remove Chief Illiniwek as the symbol of the UI.

The student trustees representing each of the UI's campuses were recognized as their terms end. All said a few words, and after thanking trustees and administrators for their help, Stewart said he was disappointed the board hadn't dealt with the Chief issue during his term.

"If someone wants to wear a Chief T-shirt on their back or a white sheet over their head, they should be able to do that," Stewart said. "(But) it's an image I feel has alienated and offended people across the nation. I know, because I'm one of them."

He acknowledged it has been difficult for the board to deal with the issue with new trustees.

"But I encourage you to act, and act soon," he said.

- Trustee Tom Lamont was also recognized and given a standing ovation from the board. The meeting was Lamont's last. He resigned from the board, effective today, to take a six-year appointment as vice chairman of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

He will be replaced by Frances Carroll, a veteran of the Chicago public school system. She was not at Thursday's meeting.

- Two UI employees spoke against the pay date change that will take effect in September. The pay date for Urbana employees will be moved up five days, from the 21st of the month to the 16th. Employees will get their paychecks five days sooner in September, but they will be for five days less pay.

Employees are protesting the change, saying it is, in effect, a pay cut for this calendar year.

- The board approved hiring Bruce Weber as head basketball coach and paying him $500,000 per year. His base salary will be $150,000 and $350,000 will be compensation for TV and radio appearances, and educational, public relations and promotional activities.

Some trustees expressed their concern over misperceptions about how Weber is paid. They said the public and even some faculty members mistakenly believe he is paid from state and tuition money.

His salary will come from the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics and from broadcast appearances and endorsement contracts.

- The board passed an interim budget, giving it the authority to operate until the fiscal year 2004 budget is finalized. The interim budget gives the board the same spending authority is has under the current budget.

The UI will likely have less money to spend under next year's budget, but it will limit its spending to what it believes the funding level will be for next year, said Steve Rugg, vice president for administration.

- The board authorized spending $5 million for maintenance work on parking decks at Fifth and Daniel streets and at Sixth and John streets. The money will come from money that was budgeted for the north parking deck being built in Urbana, which will cost less than estimated.

- The board voted to spend an extra $1.2 million this fiscal year for consulting services from Accenture for the UI Integrate computer systems project. The UI is using more consulting services than anticipated this year, Rugg said, but it will reduce the need for such services next year.

- The board approved a final project budget for the south campus development at UIC with an increase of $17 million from the original budget, to $89.9 million.

The increase is due to higher than estimated costs for land acquisition, utilities and street improvements, and site preparation. However, the UI will be paying less for the project than anticipated because tax revenue will be substantially higher than originally expected. The project is in a tax increment financing district.

- The board did not vote on an increase in the budget for a new College of Medicine Research Building on the Chicago campus and on awarding a construction contract for the building. The items were removed from the board's agenda so officials could further analyze the project's budget and resolve a bid protest.

You can reach Jodi Heckel at (217) 351-5216 or by e-mail at jheckel@news-gazette.com.

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