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.