Chief Illiniwek, online program dominate talks

Chief Illiniwek, online program dominate talks

URBANA – University of Illinois professors want more faculty involvement with the UI's online education program.

And they want some closure regarding Chief Illiniwek.

On Monday afternoon, more than 100 faculty convened on campus for the annual UI faculty meeting. The event was sponsored by the UI Senate, a legislative body of 200 faculty and 50 students. It offered faculty and any other members of the community a chance to ask questions directly of the university's top administration.

UI President B. Joseph White and Chancellor Richard Herman discussed strategic plans for the university and the Urbana campus and they fielded questions. Most questions centered around Global Campus, the university's initiative to expand the online education. The first and last comments of the afternoon addressed the Chief Illiniwek issue.

UI Professor Tom Bassett, the first person to speak, reminded Herman and White about the Senate's resolutions in 1998 and 2004 calling for the retirement of Chief Illiniwek.

"The responses of the board of trustees and university administration have been, 'Trust us. We're working on it,'" Bassett said.

However, faculty are no longer willing to accept that response, he said.

"We want to know your specific plan," he said.

White told faculty he was well aware of the Senate's actions regarding Chief Illiniwek and nothing was new on the Chief Illiniwek front.

The issue is in the hands of the UI Board of Trustees and "they have taken possession of this matter," White said, adding that he had been working behind the scenes on the matter and he would leave it at that.

Emeritus Professor Stephen Kaufman urged White and Herman to reconsider their level of input to the trustees regarding Chief Illiniwek.

"Re-evalute the input you've had and turn it up three or four notches," he said. "The board of trustees has had the challenge and failed to meet it for 16 years."

The UI's strategic plans cannot be realized until the university removes this albatross from its neck, he said.

As for those strategic initiatives, one program in the spotlight Monday was Global Campus, the UI's online education venture.

"There are thousands, tens of thousands of people who want and need a quality university education who, because of personal circumstances, will never have the privilege or opportunity of spending an extended period of time on one of our campuses earning the education in the traditional way," White said.

"The fact that over 85 percent of Americans graduate from high school and fewer than 30 percent have college degrees is a gap we can't ignore," he added.

A task force headed by Chet Gardner, special assistant to White, submitted a report on the project earlier this summer. It calls for creating a for-profit limited liability company governed by a board of managers. The board of managers, chaired by White, would be made up of business and higher education experts and a nonvoting representative from the faculty.

Faculty have expressed some concerns about the report.

Chemistry Professor Pat Shapley said she was concerned about what she called the outsourcing of teaching. The UI may hire non-tenure-track faculty to teach courses, according to the report.

Professor Elizabeth Delacruz, who chairs the Senate's academic freedom and tenure committee, said she supports 98 percent of Global Campus.

However, "My advice is keep faculty (tenure-track faculty) involved in the mature phase," she said after explaining how difficult it is for adjunct professors to earn a living.

White said Global Campus would need tenure-track faculty to be involved, and he has no desire to keep faculty out of the governing board. When he convened the task force, he asked its members to essentially "put a stake in the ground."

The faculty members' comments on Monday echoed the issues raised in a recent letter sent to White and Gardner from Terry Bodenhorn, associate professor and chair of the University Senates Conference.

"The intended involvement of regular UI faculty in the initial planning and supervision of courses and degree programs notwithstanding, we see a campus staffed mainly by nonfaculty staff who are given the responsibilities of delivering courses to students. We have serious concerns about the educational responsibility and probable resulting quality of this approach," the letter stated.

A faculty forum regarding Global Campus is being planned for later this fall.

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