Dozens of UI profs express concerns over recent proposals

Dozens of UI profs express concerns over recent proposals

Over 120 notable University of Illinois professors have signed a letter addressed to the board of trustees expressing concern about centralization efforts being considered at the university.

Recent proposals, including those having to do with centralizing enrollment management, undermine the creative diversity of the three campuses of the University of Illinois, according to the letter.

The memorandum comes in the wake of a university investigation into anonymous emails sent to members of a faculty group from the computer of Lisa Troyer, who resigned last week as chief of staff to UI President Michael Hogan. The emails, sent last month to the University Senates Conference, were about a report faculty were writing in response to possible changes in how the university handles enrollment management.

Hogan and the board of trustees have called for reforms in this area.

The faculty group raised concerns about several proposals being considered, such as centralizing admissions and financial aid processing and marketing the UI as a whole to prospective students.

"I am hoping that the weighty, earned and informed opinion of chair professors ... can persuade the board of trustees to re-examine the priority it has placed on proposals to centralize campus operation and efforts to homogenize the three campuses as if they were a single and integrated entity," said the letter's author, Ed Kolodziej, director of the Center for Global Studies.

"There is no antipathy toward the board of trustees," nor should the memo be construed to be a letter of no confidence in Hogan, Kolodziej said. The letter takes issue with "policies, not people," he said.

The list of professors who signed their name includes endowed chairs, distinguished professors and fellows from colleges and departments across campus, such as engineering, law, history, English, physics and more.

Signatories included Nobel Prize laureate Anthony Leggett; former Vice Chancellor for Research Ravi Iyer; English professor and novelist Richard Powers; James Anderson, Gutsgell professor of history of American education; Ian Hobson, Swanlund Chair and Center for Advanced Study professor of music; and Richard Alkire, professor emeritus of chemical engineering and a vice chancellor in the 1990s.

The letter was delivered Thursday afternoon.

"I signed it because I thought it was quite reasonable, and I thought it was in the best interests of the long-term strength of the University of Illinois," said Laura Greene, Swanlund chair and professor of physics. "I think it's just saying we want to make sure we maintain excellence on all three campuses."

Greene, who said she ordinarily doesn't sign petitions, described it as a clear, honest, fair and supportive letter that stressed how "this campus can continue in excellence, and not just this campus. I believe this is in the best interests of all the campuses of the university."

Kolodziej said a draft was sent to the approximately 230 chaired professors on Jan. 4; 123 signed it.

"It reflects a widespread feeling that the Urbana campus has unique capabilities that are not easily intermingled in describing the University of Illinois as a single entity. That diminishes the strength of the Urbana campus," said Alkire, who was vice chancellor for research and dean of the Graduate College from 1994 to 1999 and still has an active research program.

"We're in the middle of a prairie. People come here from all over the world, looking at many other places to live, and they come here because of the enormous investment in infrastructure for teaching and research and the things the University of Illinois at Urbana does. That's a very unique capability," Alkire said.

The text was circulated to professors on the Urbana campus only, "but the memorandum makes clear that faculty and I, personally, have a great respect for the work of these two other faculties and their service to their distinct communities," Kolodziej said.

The letter does take issue with Hogan's recent efforts to move information technology and other campus functions from Urbana and instead under control of central university administration.

At the same time it expresses support for Urbana campus Chancellor and Vice President Phyllis Wise, who came to the UI last fall from the University of Washington.

"My intent and that of my distinguished colleagues was in no way to question the statutory authority of the board of trustees, but to plead with the board to re-examine the priorities it has assigned to proposals for centralization, like the admissions process, branding, and command structures. We wish the presidency of President Hogan to succeed," Kolodziej said.

The board is scheduled to meet Wednesday and Thursday next week in Chicago.

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Jam wrote on January 13, 2012 at 7:01 am

Apparently they do not want the campus government to be accountable to the Board of Directors who were named by a sitting Governor who was elected by the people of the State of Illinois.  Some awful things may happen such as reviews of salaries and other expenses.  No one is telling them not to do research or to teach or to write books as best as I can tell. 

birdfarmer wrote on January 13, 2012 at 8:01 am

That's a complete misreading of the issues.  All UIUC staff understands that the Board of Trustees is in charge.  What is at issue is the massive expansion of a fourth campus, all employees of which have a .uillinois email address, an entity that has neither teaching nor research missions, but exists and is being greatly expanded purely to control the other three real educational/research campuses.

45solte wrote on January 13, 2012 at 10:01 am

By control,  you mean regulate?  Like the Wall St. 1% thing?  Similar dynamic goes on in academia, but, you never hear cries for reform from the inherent beneficiaries of such systems.  There is nothing done by professors that is so important or so beyond the ability of other mortals to 'get' that justifies off-limits status.  If more people outside of the academe only knew what goes on.  If you want total self-governance, stop taking money from the tax-payer's pocket.  If what you do is so important and necessary you will make it without the help of the government.   

jwr12 wrote on January 13, 2012 at 11:01 am

@Sollte: I think most people who work at the university believe in it as a public good, and would hate to see it become a private institution.  While among 1000s of employees, there are probably a few bad apples, on the whole no one I think, who is actually informed on all the issues, can doubt that the University brings in far more money and dynamism to Illinois than it costs in taxpayers' contributions, which at this point are about 17% of total budget, less than either tuition or research monies.  So I think actually it's fair to turn the question around: what makes you think the state of Illinois--especially downstate Illinois-- can get by without the University?  Why do some taxpayers (but not a majority, even though these people often pretend to be that majority) think they can have what University contributes for nothing?  In attacking public institutions, so-called "fiscal conservatives" (really radicals) are really just free-riders, expecting that they'll have the same benefits but can choose to opt out of paying in. Sorry, that's not how society works.

Sid Saltfork wrote on January 13, 2012 at 12:01 pm

It appears to be a Turf War.  While I understand the comments from both sides; the concept of management not being able to make changes whether good, or bad due to employees objecting is unusual logic to most of the public.  This is not a collective bargaining issue.  This is an issue of reduction of redundancy, and centralizing admissions.   I respect the faculty for pursuing advanced degrees in their subject matter.  However, that does not make them good managers.  The Law School scandal, and the most recent e-mail scandal shows the university (all campuses) needs change.  "Fiscal conservatives" exist with "Liberals" in the faculty.  This has nothing to do with politics.  This is a Turf War.

jwr12 wrote on January 14, 2012 at 12:01 pm

@Saltfork: with all due respect, the common denominator in every single recent scandal -- the so-called "clout" scandal; the law school scandal; this scandal -- is that the guilty party has not been a faculty member, but rather an adminstrator.  Faculty had little to nothing to do with any of them.  (Note that while Troyer was hired with tenure, she has never actually been a teacher or researcher at Illinois; she has always been a researcher). So the only good managers in each of these affairs -- the ones who have done the most to see that the problems have been addressed -- have actually been faculty.  I suspect most faculty here would love to see competent adminstration at the upper level.  So I don't see how you can claim that this is all the result of some faculty turf war or faculty mismanagement.  This has to do with abuse of power by central administrators, and (unfortunately) every attempt to "clean house" has made matters worse, by simply creating more powerful (and thereby corrupting) central offices.

Sid Saltfork wrote on January 15, 2012 at 10:01 pm

@jwr12:  The universities are state institutions.  For too long; the university administrators, and faculty have handled the finances, and scandals.  Nothing much has changed.  When state senators have asked for oversight, academia has shouted them down.  It really is not the adminstrators, or faculty's private domain.  Do you really believe that this present scandal will be dealt with in the appropriate manner?  Do you really believe that the university president will recind Dr. Troyer's tenure for the most basic ethic violation, plus the denial of it?  Do you think that the faculty would back the recinding of tenure?  When was the last time that a faculty member had their tenure recinded?  I respect that an individual has earned a Ph.D. in a narrow subject matter.  However, I am no longer of the opinion that the same individual can develop, or manage a budget.  This scandal involves an academic (researcher, or not) who was given tenure as part of a deal engineered by the new university president, and Board of Trustees.  She served the president who wanted her to be paid $200,000.00 / year with tenure.  Now, that president is the only one who can recind her tenure (fire her).  Where is the faculty during this outrage?  The public only sees the triangle of the Board of Trustees, the university administration, and the faculty maintaining a private domain with tax money being spent foolishly.  She is employed by the State of Illinois.  She takes the annual Ethics Test, and the results are recorded.  If she violated ethics as a state employee, she should be disciplined as a state employee.  The discipline is usually termination.  Do you have a problem with that?