Text of letter from UI professors

The following is the text of a letter sent to the University of Illinois Board of Trustees signed by over 120 UI professors regarding recent efforts to centralize aspects of university governance. It was written by Ed Kolodziej, director of the Center for Global Studies.

TO: University of Illinois Board of Trustees; cc. President Michael Hogan

RE: University Governance: UIUC's Autonomy & Mission Accomplishment

The strength of the University of Illinois lies in its creative diversity. As faculty members of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, we are deeply concerned about recent proposals for administrative centralization of the University system. These actions undermine the creative diversity of the University's three campuses. President Hogan's initiatives to centralize the University of Illinois places at risk the achievement of the University's manifold and complex obligations to the citizens of Illinois and the nation.

We begin by affirming our strong support for Chancellor Phyllis Wise, the chief executive officer of our campus, whose autonomy is defined by the statutes of the State of Illinois and sanctioned by customary norms and practices since the creation of the University of Illinois in 1867 at Urbana-Champaign. This tested organizational system has made the UIUC campus a world-class center for the generation of new knowledge in all areas of human concern and an inexhaustible engine of scientific discovery and technological innovation, touching and bettering the lives of people around the world.

President Hogan's recent actions clearly indicate that he fails to recognize the full scope of the Chancellor's authority and the limitations of the presidential office. Nor has he acknowledged his prescribed role: to strengthen, not weaken, the capabilities of each campus to effectively respond to the differential needs of the communities they serve.

A preoccupation with organizational issues slights the enormous contributions of the Urbana-Champaign campus to knowledge as well as to national and international well-being — consequences of UIUC's autonomy and the creative initiatives that autonomy has elicited. Rather than enrich these assets, the President has focused instead on taking over more and more of UIUC's responsibilities, from a highly visible role in campus athletics to control of information technology and other essential campus functions. Clearly, there are areas where some savings and coordination across the three campuses can be beneficial. President Hogan's centralizing initiatives in his office hardly foster these logistical objectives, serving only to distract faculty and campus leadership from pursuing their academic and public responsibilities. These have produced an unprecedented increase in new administration positions, wasteful centralized costs, redundant reporting lines, and duplicative bureaucratic transactions. Their cumulative effect diminishes the ability of campus officers and faculty to efficiently and effectively execute their missions.

The most recent of these changes to centralize "enrollment management" strikes at the heart of campus authority. The capacity of the faculties of each campus to discharge their teaching and research functions depends critically on a coherent match between faculty expertise and student academic capabilities, needs, and aspirations. Centralized fiat cannot command that match, which is necessarily a function of fine-tuning the admissions process to campus human and material resources and student capabilities and expected performance levels. Control over setting and implementing enrollment policies and targets, including the design of the annual, complex composition of the student body, must remain the prerogative of the campuses and the colleges.

We are also greatly concerned about the external consultants' suggested "rebranding" of the University of Illinois as a single entity. This rebranding ignores State statutes and turns a blind eye to the rich history of the UIUC campus. Re-branding from the top down undermines the distinctive role of this campus as the original, flagship campus. There is no overall "University of Illinois" brand or identity, apart from the unique brand and earned identity of its three distinctive campuses. There is no such thing as a "University of Illinois degree." Rather, the University of Illinois, as a treasured institution, is the sum of its three separately accredited campuses, each with its own particular reputation, history, culture, and mission. Misguided re-branding of the University of Illinois as a whole has the effect of inadvertently discounting the precious assets of each campus and, ipso facto, making the alleged University whole less than the sum of its parts.

Centralized re-branding also unwittingly impairs efforts to ensure the long-term funding of the University and, specifically, of the UIUC campus under conditions of diminishing state and federal support. As the UIUC brand is dulled and diminished by a narrow focus on organizational centralization and the costly institutionalization of hierarchical authority, the capacity of the faculty to effectively compete for grants and contracts with other leading research universities is eroded. The University of Illinois relies on the creativity, energy, freedom, and commitment of UIUC faculty to generate annually tens of millions of dollars. This is scarcely the time to dissipate these assets by assigning priority to the reorganization of the University in lieu of central administration aggressively promoting the discovery and dissemination of knowledge and advancing public service by strengthening each campus. That is a sure recipe for driving the best and brightest of UIUC's faculty to other, more supportive research universities. What brought our faculty to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and what keeps us here, is this campus's international reputation for unexcelled achievement in research, teaching, and public service. Campus leadership, the faculty, the students, and thousands of alumni have worked hard and tirelessly to establish and maintain UIUC's and, by extension, the University system's reputation. The reputation for excellence is hard-won, and easily lost.

Donors, like the Krannerts, Beckmans, Richmonds, and Campbells, bet on imaginative and innovative breakthroughs in research, academic programs, and the performing and plastic arts, not hierarchical structures of authority, long ago repudiated as a model by progressive businesses and corporations. Fostering creative knowledge generation and dissemination requires a horizontal organizational structure and complex processes of cooperative and mutually adaptive decision-making at all levels. What is needed is a fleet, nimble, and autonomous UIUC campus, disposed and positioned to perfect the University's capacity for growth and development.

We sign this letter to affirm that, as faculty members of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, we are committed to our university campus, our students, and our campus leadership. We also affirm the unique assets of the other campuses. We salute their accomplished faculty and the strengths of their student bodies. In bringing these important issues of university governance and campus autonomy to light, we strive to support our campus leadership and to ensure that the distinguished reputation of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is preserved and extended for future generations.

Comments

News-Gazette.com embraces discussion of both community and world issues. We welcome you to contribute your ideas, opinions and comments, but we ask that you avoid personal attacks, vulgarity and hate speech. We reserve the right to remove any comment at our discretion, and we will block repeat offenders' accounts. To post comments, you must first be a registered user, and your username will appear with any comment you post. Happy posting.

Login or register to post comments

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

I think it only necessary to observe the state of the State in relation to how much Central Management Services costs and slows down the efficiency of procurement to see that centralization of power does not boost efficiency, it only allows more room for graft and corruption.  The closer to grassroots the power is held, the more efficient the operation of the unit.  I believe the professors are 'right on' to keep the individuality of the campuses.  Any attempt at muddying the waters by centralizing the identity of the university only serves to dilute the richness of the current campuses, each of which have (or had, in relation to the Chief) their own individuality which binds the group together to strive for greatness.  To quote an old boy I once knew, 'If it ain't broke, don't mess with it and if you don't know what it is, don't touch it'.  Without good reason, please leave the machine operat as is.  It's doing a good job.  U of I UC, class of 1975

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

As expected, my faculty colleagues are spot-on.  Wouldn't it be refreshing if the President reported to the Chancellors instead of vice-versa?  Then Central Administration could carry out those tasks that would save the system, as a whole, costs, while not being in a position to grab power from the campuses.  Or if the Board said, "reduce costs X%" and asked the faculty to come up with a plan that did that?  If we can't get our act together, then perhaps fiat would be justified.  But we have not been asked, we have been told.  No faculty member accepts that administration knows better how to carry out the intellectual work of the University than those at the student/faculty/knowledge/teaching interface.

sgdavis wrote on January 13, 2012 at 9:01 am

Agreed!   There are important enrollment issues that need to be addressed, but centralization doesn't address them.  It adds another layer of administrative bureaucracy, (and another big salary) --- but it doesn't add anything to the knowledge faculty have of the students, where they come from, and what they need.

As a faculty member I can say what would help enrollment, recruitment and completion: updating classrooms, strengthening programs that have lost faculty and support, smaller classes, more classes, more full-time faculty --- and a tuition reduction  -- instead of repeated increases.  One of the main problems my students have is how much they have to work while in school -- to pay  for their degree.  It really harms their academic progress.

45solte wrote on January 13, 2012 at 9:01 am

Yes.  Tuition reduction.  Maybe start with cutting the salaries of professors.  Surely with all the latest tech gadgets they buy with taxpayer money, they could take a little of the 'resort' aspect out of their conferencing.  Surely the learned could also figure out how to take their teaching online.  Perhaps some wish to maintain control at the grassroots level so that the fox can continue guarding the hen house?  Is 'creative diversity' ever defined in this letter? 

45solte wrote on January 13, 2012 at 9:01 am

...

45solte wrote on January 13, 2012 at 9:01 am

Irony?  Elitist professors who think they know what's best for the rest-of-us (despite their expertise being limited to a very small and specific area of knowledge---oftentimes an arguably obsolete area), griping about others thinking they know what's best for them. 

squeaky wrote on January 13, 2012 at 10:01 am

Ostensibly, President Hogan's proposals endeavor to achieve efficiencies and economies of scale. In practice, they will be detrimental for all of the reasons stated in the letter and more. The proposals appear to be an attempt by the President to consolidate power by de-facto executive fiat through reassignment of academic functions to bureaucracy over which he has a great deal of control. The proposals threaten to undermine the office of the Chancellor as well as the reputation and identity of UIUC. jimdrotto is 100 percent on target by referencing the bloated and dysfunctional bureaucracy known as Central Management Services. CMS exists not to provide efficiencies, but to consolidate power through the "management" and award of contracts for various services and building leases. UIUC will not be well served if academic matters become subject to a bureaucracy that even remotely resembles CMS.

.