UI scales back civic leadership program
URBANA — Seven years after its launch — and seven years of being partially subsidized by the campus — the University of Illinois' civic leadership program is being scaled down.
The joint bachelor's-master's degree, which involved students interning in Springfield, Washington or abroad, will be reworked into a concentration in civic leadership for undergraduate political science majors. A minor in civic leadership also is envisioned; however, approval for that program still has to go through the campus academic senate and UI Board of Trustees.
Although the program receives some financial support from foundations and other sources, the campus has provided the civic leadership program with about $100,000 a year. The program has had 70 graduates over those seven years.
"That to me is not cost effective. I like the program. I know students like the program," said Bill Bernhard, head of the UI's Department of Political Science, who said he didn't want to eliminate the program. Instead the department would modify it to keep portions of it, like the internship and networking opportunities, but make it available only to undergraduates.
"We think that type of approach will meet the original goals of the program ... to help prepare students to think about leadership roles in the public service, to get them thinking about broader issues" and running the program in a more cost-effective manner, Bernhard said.
Current students will not be affected by the change, he said.
But alumni, notably Kevin Fanning from the Class of 2009, said he wants administrators to change their minds and keep it a B.A.-M.A. program.
Fanning works part-time for Cook County Commissioner Jeff Tobolski and attends DePaul University's College of Law. He interned with Rich Miller's Capital Fax, the Illinois political blog, while he was enrolled in the civic leadership program.
"It was really great exposure to be able to find out firsthand how the General Assembly works, how constituents influence the Legislature and the media's role in the whole process. That's something you can't learn sitting at a desk," Fanning said.
He's been rallying support for the program by contacting former students and urging UI officials to keep it alive.
One of his points: $100,000 is a tiny fraction of the campus' $1.9 billion annual budget.
"This ($100,000) goes directly to the idea of higher education supporting the future leaders of tomorrow and students being civically involved," Fanning said.
The program was the brainchild of UI political science Professor Peter Nardulli and UI alumnus Richard Cline, said Jim Nowlan, who was the program's director for the first four years.
"The impetus was that the university provide enriched opportunities for gifted students with great leadership potential through a combination of coursework, field trips and interactions with prominent political and civic leaders," Nowlan said.
Many graduates went on to law school or graduate programs, such as in public health and other areas, he said.
Students apply for the joint B.A.-M.A. program in their junior year, taking courses and completing an internship with a government agency, non-governmental institution or similar workplace. After their internships, students return to campus for a year to work on a master's project that addresses a public-policy issue.
"The vision is to help train students interested in public service to give them experience to get involved in leadership positions," Bernhard said.
It was never intended as master of public administration — the goal was never to teach people to be city planners, for example, he said.
The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences agreed to fund $100,000 a year for five years. After that deadline passed, Bernhard said, the department asked for financial assistance for an additional two years.
The department surveyed students about what they liked and didn't like about the program, reviewed statistics such as enrollment and student performance and faculty experiences, and then began plans to refashion the program.
The director position, currently held by Don Greco, will be eliminated at the end of this academic year. A meeting is scheduled for later this month with students to brief them on the plans.
"We're doing our best to strengthen this program and work under new budgetary constraints," Bernhard said.