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.