UI trustees call for 'Bill of Health'

UI trustees call for 'Bill of Health'

URBANA – The University of Illinois is asking legislators for a multimillion-dollar "Illinois Bill of Health" to tend to its financially ailing medical school and health sciences programs.

If the special appropriation is approved by legislators, the state would provide another $50 million annually, phased in over five years, to support education of doctors, dentists, nurses and other health professionals.

In all, it would cost the state $150 million over the next five years. The UI is also seeking a one-time allocation of $10 million to complete the Medical Center's master expansion plan; and $22 million annually, starting no later than 2013, to expand medical school enrollment by 20 percent to help avert a predicted doctor shortage nationwide. That money would be phased in over four years, increasing by $5.5 million a year.

UI trustees, who floated the idea in January and approved the request Wednesday, said the money is needed to keep tuition affordable, maintain quality and keep the pipeline of doctors flowing.

With 1,390 students, the UI's medical school is the largest in the country. Most of its students are from Illinois, and many of them stay in the state when they begin work as physicians, said UI Trustee Ken Schmidt, a radiologist.

But it has the lowest level of state support, per student, of any public Big Ten medical school. And its tuition, at $28,000 annually, is the highest among those schools – $9,000 more than the average. Tuition can only go so high, said Schmidt, noting UI medical school students graduate with an average debt of $148,000.

Tuition for the College of Dentistry, one of two dental schools in Illinois, is second highest in the country, topped only by UCLA, he said.

Meanwhile, a "perfect storm" of aging doctors downsizing practices and an aging patient population needing more care is brewing a doctor shortage expected to peak at 24,000 in 2020, he said. In Illinois, 42 percent of doctors are older than 55, he said.

The American Association of Medical Colleges has asked medical schools to increase enrollment by 30 percent. The UI has settled on 20 percent, or another 65 students per class, the most it can accommodate without more facilities, Dean Joe Flaherty said.

Schools must act now because it takes eight to 12 years to train a physician, Schmidt said.

By phasing in its request, the UI is trying to be "realistic," board Chairman Lawrence Eppley said.

Schmidt believes the proposal has legislative support.

"It's a lot of money in tight budgetary times, we know that," he said.

But it's also something that affects people across the state who need access to doctors, nurses and pharmacists, he said.

"This is not a higher education problem. This is a state of Illinois problem," Schmidt said. "This is a health issue."

In other action Wednesday:

New fund drive, vice chancellor at Urbana. Chancellor Richard Herman announced a five-year campaign to raise $100 million toward need- and merit-based scholarships for students at the Urbana campus. At current interest rates, every $1 million donated will generate $47,500 worth of scholarships, Herman said, and the campus plans to match that amount.

Trustees also hired James Schroeder as the first vice chancellor for institutional advancement and senior vice president of the UI Foundation, the university's fundraising arm. He will serve as the campus' chief development officer and coordinator of development, alumni relations and public relations efforts.

The position was formerly an associate chancellor position, held most recently on an interim basis by Craig Bazzani. Its elevation signifies the growing importance of private donations for the campus, officials said.

Schroeder, now president of The Ohio State University Foundation, worked as a dean in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences from 1978 to 1998 before taking development positions at Harvard University and the Mayo Foundation. In his new post, he will head a staff of 36 people and earn $260,000 annually, with a $160,000 bonus if he remains through March 2012.

Petascale project moves ahead. Trustees approved designs and awarded the first contract for the $72.5 million Petascale Computing Facility, which will house the world's most powerful supercomputer for open scientific research when it comes online in 2011. The Blue Waters supercomputer will sustain more than 1 quadrillion calculations, allowing scientists to model the weather or the movement of pandemic disease across a continent.

The 95,000-square-foot building, about the length of a football field, will be built at the corner of Oak Street and St. Mary's Road and will house about 40 staff members. Groundbreaking is expected in late 2008.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich has committed $60 million toward the project, but that's dependent on legislators approving a capital funding program. The UI has already sold $60 million in bonds to finance the project so it can move ahead, officials said.

Architects from EYP Mission Critical Facilities Inc. of Chicago said the goal was to design something beyond the "windowless" box used for most computing facilities. The computer will be housed in the brick half of the building, while the public areas will be a mix of metal and glass with a floating staircase and a glowing blue wall symbolizing the computer's name.

Trustees hired Clayco Inc. of Chicago as construction manager, at fees not to exceed $3.09 million.

Blue Waters is a joint project of the UI, National Center for Supercomputing Applications, IBM and the Great Lakes Consortium for Petascale Computation.

College renamed. Trustees agreed to change the name of the College of Communications to College of Media – and the Department of Speech Communications to Department of Communications – to avoid confusion and better reflect their current missions.

Athletic director's contract. The board approved a two-year contract extension for A.D. Ron Guenther, boosting his salary from $525,000 to $600,000 as of Aug. 16. His salary will be negotiated annually after that, with a $100,000 incentive if he remains through 2010.

Sections (2):News, Local