Trustees vote to close UI Institute of Aviation

UPDATED 3:20 p.m. Thursday

CHICAGO – The University of Illinois Board of Trustees voted 6-2 Thursday afternoon to close the Institute of Aviation.

The move came after Urbana Chancellor Robert Easter told trustees the campus could save as much as $750,000 a year by eliminating undergraduate programs in aviation.

About 50 protesters, some in aviation uniforms, were out at 7  a.m. to protest.

One of them, instructor Tena Kincaid, was up at 3:30 a.m. to drive up with her infant in tow. She said she wasn’t sure how much effect the protest had on the trustees, “but they acknowledged us.”

Easter said outside the meeting that he was intrigued by the idea of Parkland College in Champaign taking over some pilot training, even without a degree program attached. He cited the Pathways program as a successful effort to integrate Parkland students into future life at the UI, including advisers and even residence halls.

Graduate programs could find at least a temporary home in the Graduate College. Easter said there were only a half-dozen graduate students.

Easter told the trustees he was proud of the institute, which had its beginnings shortly after World War II. But he said demand was decreasing for the aviation programs, meaning the programs were consistently having to take students whose GPAs and ACT scores were the lowest on the Urbana campus. He said Stewarding Excellence teams he created with interim Provost Richard Wheeler said that demand for pilots was decreasing.

But interim Aviation Director Tom Emanuel disputed that, saying FAA rules which force pilots to retire will result in a shortage.

“The Institute has had a downward trend in the number of applicants the last decade," Easter said. "In 2002, the institute had 176 applicants. By 2009, the institute enrolled 30 students and had five tenure-track faculty members. In response to the declining applicant numbers, the institute increasingly advocated that the campus admit students with lower academic qualifications.”

Easter said UI administrators considered closing the Institute of Aviation several times in its history, as early as 1974.

“In 1992, an aviation task force again reviewed the institute," Easter said. "And in 2007, then-Provost Linda Katehi formed yet another review committee. The 2007 review committee recommended that the campus create a new College of Technology and Society, within which the institute could be housed.”

But he said the fiscal downturn precluded that. The campus also investigated moving the programs into the College of Engineering or another campus college, Easter said.
 

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opinions1973 wrote on July 21, 2011 at 9:07 pm

good thing the State of Illinois just spent money to put a concrete overlay on the U of I ramp at willard airport when it will be closing. Yet another great waste of taxpayer money! Why spend money on a general aviation apron when it will be worthless for future redevelopemnt, if that ever happens...... looks like another chanute happing in savoy.....

ddf1972 wrote on July 22, 2011 at 1:07 am

Hold on...no one said anything about the airport closing. UI owns the airport, and the Institute of Aviation is a degree-granting program within the university. So, they may not have pilots in training any longer, but that doesn't mean the airport is closing. I do think UI should divest itself of the airport, but not sure how that transition would occur to private or quasi- regional/governmental ownership.

Sid Saltfork wrote on July 22, 2011 at 6:07 am

Hey, it's Illinoise. What'a yu gonna do? You give them the money; and they spend it as they choose.

squeaky wrote on July 22, 2011 at 9:07 am

Unfortunately, UIUC leadership seems to evaluate instructional programs almost entirely on their potential to generate research and grant dollars or academic standing of graduate studies. For years, suggestions to optimize the business model under which the Institute operates or upgrade or expand academic offerings have largely been categorically dismissed without debate. Years of deliberate, chronic underfunding, staff reductions and denials of needed upgrades have finally caught-up.

tigersy2k3 wrote on July 22, 2011 at 12:07 pm

UIUC had one of the lowest scoring aviation departments in the region. Did you not see this coming when Saint Louis University took out a billboard advertising their aviation program (on of the tops in the country) just across the entrance from Willard? I am sure UIUC will hold on to their rights with Willard simply because it is vastly used by athletic teams and visitors of the university, however, the Aviation Dept at UIUC and aviation community of CU had to see this coming

aviator wrote on July 22, 2011 at 3:07 pm

I would like to know how you decided UIUC is one of the lowest scoring around here? The Institute of Aviation is a outstanding and nationally recognized for the quality pilots and Human Factors graduates who come out of the program. You are very wrong.

The University has blocked enrollment into the program several times over the last few years. (And can not figure out why the enrollment is down.... hmmm.) And yes, the airport itself is operated at a huge loss every year (not a penny of that is the Institute of Aviation), because the University has no idea how to make it profitable. The cost are sky high, they charge for parking, and people would much rather fly out of Bloomington. The airport will suffer, airlines will leave, and the control tower will likely close when 90% of the users (the Institute planes) are gone.

Never mind the fact that it costs around $350,000 a year to operate the Institute, and the President of the University alone makes over $800,000 a year! The students pay additional costs to cover the flight fees for airplanes and maintenance costs. The institute is no more expensive than the majority of the other programs. The closure is a big loss to the area.