URBANA — Saying he wants to ease faculty tensions over enrollment management reforms, Board of Trustees Chairman Christopher Kennedy is promising the University of Illinois' top professors that a detailed report and formal response from President Michael Hogan is on its way.
Hogan's report is expected within the next month and will be shared with the University Senates Conference, a group made up of faculty leaders from the UI's three campuses, Kennedy said in a letter Monday to scores of faculty who wrote to trustees in January with their concerns about enrollment management.
In recent months, faculty have raised a number of questions about possible reforms for how the UI recruits, admits and offers financial aid to students on all of its campuses.
"In the meantime, in order to relieve a little tension, I should make it clear, as the president has said, that all admissions decisions and the establishment of standards will be made at the college or unit level as they are today," Kennedy wrote.
Decisions regarding class profiles for entering students will be made at the college or unit level, decisions about scholarships and financial aid will be made at the campus level, and faculty and deans will be involved in the same way as they are now, according to Kennedy.
"Campus identities will remain as they are today. All existing branding will remain unchanged," he wrote.
The initial faculty letter sent to Hogan and the UI Board of Trustees was signed by 125 chair-holding professors out of 230 on campus. Others followed from the executive committees of major colleges on the Urbana campus.
Recent administrative changes and proposals, including those having to do with centralizing enrollment management, undermine the creative diversity of the three campuses, the initial letter said.
The letter's author, Ed Kolodziej, director of the Center for Global Studies, said on Wednesday he appreciated Kennedy's effort to talk about what Kolodziej called "real problems," including those related to enrollment management, such as the need to enroll more students from underrepresented groups and to recruit the best and brightest high school students.
However, the chair-holding professors are concerned with "not just the enrollment management issues. It's a series of actions taken by President Hogan that seem to be developing a centralization and bureaucratization of the university system."
That kind of governance would impede the faculty's, students' and campus leaders' "capacity to pursue the mission of teaching, research, and public service at the highest levels of performance," Kolodziej said.
The faculty letter was sent on Jan. 12, a little more than a week after Lisa Troyer, Hogan's chief of staff, resigned amid an investigation into anonymous emails sent to members of the University Senates Conference from her computer. The subject of those emails revolved around how the conference would respond to an external report, commissioned by Hogan, that recommended various changes in enrollment management. The conference ended up voting 13-2 in favor of a report that endorsed three recommendations, requested further discussion and analysis on some, and rejected other recommendations. Kolodziej said the letter was already being drafted before Hogan's chief of staff resigned.
Professor Nicholas Burbules, who's been a vocal critic of the external enrollment management report, welcomed Kennedy's letter and call for ongoing dialogue, as did other faculty.
"I think it is a very productive step forward, and a demonstration of good will and engagement that I think has been missing in this process," he said Wednesday.
The letter follows Kennedy's Jan. 13 meeting with the University Senates Conference and Hogan, in which Kennedy led a detailed discussion of the 21 recommendations in the enrollment management report, asked faculty to elaborate on their concerns and promised an administrative response to each.
It was, Burbules said, "by far the most frank and productive exchange we've had on this issue."
Kennedy sent a 34-page summary of that discussion to the conference members and subsequently said some proposals, including the "branding" issue, would be re-evaluated. Hogan, while meeting with the Senate Executive Committee last Monday, said he would take the re-branding proposal "off the table."
"It seems to me now that our concerns and questions are being heard and taken seriously. I wish that we'd had these kinds of exchanges at the start of this process. We could have avoided some really unnecessary arguments and frictions," Burbules said.
Burbules, who has worked as a consultant, said he has never seen a case where an external consultant's report was taken as "a blueprint for action," as with enrollment management. It's usually a starting point for those inside the institution to develop a plan, he said.
"The process Chairman Kennedy has laid out, in which the external report is taken as a starting point, and then adapted to our different campus needs and the issues expressed by the campus senates, the university senates conference, and by campus administrators, is much more likely to produce the outcomes we want, and much more likely to gain the broad base of support necessary for these reforms to be successful," Burbules said.
Kennedy wrote he hoped the letter relieves some of the "tension around the misperception about the intent of the enrollment management review and future plans for that important concern." He also wrote that he hoped to continue to have a dialogue about issues important to the university.
Professor Michael Biehl, who wrote the campus senate's response to the enrollment management report and co-authored the senates conference report, also praised Kennedy's letter.
"In my opinion, it is very encouraging as it seems to advocate for exactly the type of collaborative, productive enrollment management discussions that our EM Task Force report, the united campus senates, and a majority of the faculty have been asking for," Biehl said.
Biehl had advocated for a collaborative approach, and he was distressed when an email he sent to colleagues describing the more forceful views of other professors was cited by Hogan as evidence that faculty were trying to force a confrontation with administrators.