URBANA — Two high-level reviews could result in fewer top executive officers at the University of Illinois, possibly undoing key appointments made by then-University of Illinois President Michael Hogan.
A UI Board of Trustees committee last week proposed eliminating the vice president for health affairs in favor of a vice chancellor's position, part of a restructuring of the UI's health care operations.
And a separate review of other central administrative offices, completed in August, produced several options to revamp the Office of the Vice President for Research, including one that would eliminate it as a separate vice presidency and place it under another office, The News-Gazette has learned.
Both vice presidencies were created three years ago under Hogan, who resigned under fire in 2012. Health affairs was a new position, and the research post was formerly the vice president for technology and economic development.
Chris Kennedy, chairman of the UI board, said no one should interpret the proposals as a rollback of Hogan's initiatives, saying the health affairs post will build on necessary changes made three years ago.
"I think it's a refinement," Kennedy said last week.
And, he said, "I'm unaware of any support for the notion that we would diminish the role of the vice president for research."
Completing the administrative review and weighing a reorganization of the university's health affairs office have been top priorities for President Bob Easter since he took the helm of the university a year and a half ago.
Easter commissioned the university administration review last year to examine administrative offices for redundancies and their value to the UI's core academic mission — teaching, research and public service. The goals were to improve efficiency and save money but also ensure that money is budgeted appropriately.
The UI spends about $116 million annually on university-level administration — 2 percent to 3 percent of its total operating budget — which includes everything from the president's office to budgeting to university lawyers to the UI Research Park. In all, about 1,200 people work in those administrative units, according to a staffing report prepared by the university Office of Planning and Budgeting.
Seven review teams with representatives from each campus examined the administrative units and completed their reports in early summer, said Bill Adams, who led the UA review as senior adviser to Easter. A steering committee led by Adams compiled the 85 findings and recommendations. That report was reviewed by an advisory committee led by Christophe Pierre, vice president for academic affairs, and including the three campus provosts; Walter Knorr, the UI's chief financial officer; and Professor Nick Burbules, then chairman of the University Senates Conference. They boiled the 85 items into 47 recommendations and sent that report in late August to Easter, Adams said.
Adams, retired associate provost from the Urbana campus, declined to discuss specific recommendations, but said one came "close" to suggesting that the position of vice president for research be eliminated.
Easter said the recommendation was not to eliminate the office altogether but move it under the vice president for academic affairs.
"That was one of several options that went to him," Adams said.
Easter is still working his way through the 47 recommendations with the chancellors of the three campuses. They still have about 10 to consider, including the vice president for research, Adams said. He expects that process to wind up in another week or two, and until then the recommendations will remain confidential.
"When they're done with all of them, then we'll make them public," Adams said. "Then we will begin to formally implement these things."
Campuses first, UA second
The report contains several "overarching" recommendations that affect all units — such as improving communication with the campuses and establishing a process for annual reviews, Adams said.
Perhaps most telling is its emphasis on involving campus "customers" in policy decisions that will ultimately affect them, Adams said.
"If you drill down through all of this, the significant change here is — and this has been in all the communications from the beginning — that the core missions of the university are carried out through the campuses and faculty teaching and research, and that all other units exist to provide support," Adams said.
The feeling on the campuses has always been that university-level administration was a "hierarchical structure: the folks at the UA were running the place and the folks at the campus are kind of second in line," Adams said. "What this does is, it kind of changes that paradigm into one where the campuses are where the work really gets done, and the missions really get carried out, and everything else exists to support that."
Is everyone on board with that?
"No," Adams replied. "But do I think that they're starting to get it? I do. It's a significant change in culture. It'll take a while to get there."
It's also a change in emphasis from Hogan's presidency, when the paramount concern was restoring order to a university torn by an admissions scandal. He worked with trustees to strengthen the presidency, saying the lack of "a clear line of administrative authority" had diminished the president's effectiveness. He named the three chancellors as vice presidents first and spoke of the UI as "one university with three campuses," rankling faculty at the flagship Urbana campus.
Building on recommendations from an earlier administrative task force, he also appointed university-level administrators to coordinate information technology and human resources across the campuses. But his effort to do the same with enrollment management led to widespread faculty dissent and, eventually, his resignation.
"By far the most important thing that President Easter and Vice President Pierre brought to this process is a definition that the function of UA is to serve and support the campuses," Burbules said. "That is diametrically opposite of what President Hogan's philosophy was. And I think in the process, they've been re-evaluating a lot of the changes President Hogan put in place."
But Adams, like Kennedy, doesn't see the proposals as an effort to undo Hogan's initiatives.
"I just think there are some of these where it's time for a second look," Adams said.
Burbules said the problem with Hogan's reforms was a failure to reconcile the division of authority between university administration and the campuses. Hogan applied a model he had used at the University of Connecticut, and "it didn't work here. It's a different kind of institution," he said. "Our campus identities are foremost. We are also part of a collegial whole. It's a question of what you put first."
Easter, with trustees' approval, changed the chancellors' titles so that "vice president" became secondary.
The UI also announced one change from the UA review, reiterating that campus human resource officers report up through the chancellors rather than directly to university administration, Adams said.
"Everything that President Easter has done since he's arrived has been to shift that relative authority out of UA back to the campuses," Burbules said.
Research post: 'Work in progress'
Some of the concerns about the vice president for research relate to the way the position was created, Adams said, calling it "kind of a unilateral decision" by Hogan.
That change, and the creation of the health affairs post, were part of a restructuring package proposed by Hogan and approved by UI trustees in fall 2010, a few months after he was named president.
Hogan argued that intellectual property is inextricably linked to academic research, so it made sense to expand the role of the vice president for technology and economic development to include research. The revamped position was to facilitate research collaboration among the three campuses, streamline related policies and procedures, eliminate "unnecessary redundancies" and act as a "unified voice" for the UI's $800 million research enterprise, he said at the time.
"Part of the issue is, there simply wasn't the level of consultation with the campuses and their faculty in terms of what the role of this would be and what its authority would be," Adams said. "The way it's functioning is not consistent with the way the position was set up, thank goodness. If a person really decided to do what the initial charge was, it would cause heartburn on campus."
Hogan also said the clinical work of the UI's health sciences enterprise had grown increasingly complex, and the 2010 Administrative Restructuring and Review task force had recommended creating a universitywide officer to oversee health operations. Lawrence Schook, then director of the UI Division of Biomedical Sciences in Urbana, was appointed vice president for research, and Dr. Joe "Skip" Garcia, then a new vice chancellor at UI Chicago, became vice president for health affairs.
Burbules, who was among faculty leaders concerned about the appointments at the time, said the fears had nothing to do with either Schook or Garcia. Rather, faculty were unclear about the role of the new vice presidents in relation to the vice chancellors and other administrators on each campus. That continues to create confusion about "who exactly has control over what," he said.
Don Chambers, a member of the University Senates Conference when Hogan proposed the administrative changes, said he tried repeatedly to get more information and clarity on both new positions at the time, to no avail.
Burbules said Schook is "terrific" and has used a "fairly light touch" in the job, delegating a great deal of authority to the vice chancellors for research. But he said the position's responsibilities remain open-ended, including its oversight of the research parks on the UI's two main campuses.
Adams agreed: "I don't sense there's a real issue right now. What if somebody else comes in that really reads what their authority is and decides to take it? There are some significant issues there."
Chambers thinks the university needs a vice president for research "to deal with a variety of things: university research agendas, how should Chicago synergize with Urbana and where Springfield fits into this." But he said it's still a "work in progress," complicated by the relationship with the vice chancellors.
Kennedy characterized those concerns as internal and said it's more important for the university to look externally, particularly in the case of research funding.
"Whether that's the National Science Foundation or the business community, primarily in Chicago, or the elected representatives, or the mayor's office, or the congressional delegation, they love having a single point of contact," Kennedy said. "Without that single point of contact the whole notion of UI Labs would be dead. We would not have the ability to respond as we have."
UI Labs is a multimillion-dollar research and development lab planned in Chicago, a public-private partnership involving the UI, city of Chicago, state and industry. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel also wants the university to help create a manufacturing center there to increase the region's competitiveness and keep UI engineering graduates from going to Silicon Valley.
Schook said economic development is a vital part of the UI's mission, mandated by the state, which has provided millions for projects such as the Blue Waters supercomputer.
"Right now there's more expectations, not less, from the outside," he said.
Schook also said the administrative review team didn't point out any real problems with his office.
"There's nothing in the report that says, 'This is the problem we need to fix,'" Schook said. "It's more like, 'These are things that should be considered.'"
As for health affairs, Kennedy said the new recommendations are "a continuation of the prior administration's work to try to consolidate authority, and responsibility, for various parts of our academic medical center in one executive," he said. The creation of the vice president was a major step forward, he said, particularly in dealing with threats to the UI's health funding. The next step is to integrate the academic side, the College of Medicine, he said.
"I think we're going to end up with a person in the health affairs position who has greater authority than anything Skip ever had," Kennedy said.
Adams said some of the forthcoming changes from the UA review involve simply changing a reporting line; others are more substantive and will take time, he said.
The reports have been kept confidential to give UI leaders to have a chance to digest them "without people lobbying one way or the other," he said. Adams argued that all interested parties had significant input through the administrative review process.
Jorge Villegas, business professor at UI Springfield and current chairman of the University Senates Conference, said he understands why it's taking some time for the recommendations to be made known, as the process is "delicate."
"President Easter is a very deliberate person; he considers all the details. He knows there are people involved, and we appreciate that," he said. "Really these are major decisions and we're happy they are going through this process. It will help UA become a more service-oriented organization."
The Campus Faculty Association has some concerns about the transparency of the process and the seemingly small number of faculty involved in the discussions thus far, said UI communications Professor Susan Davis.
Streamlining at high levels is a good thing, she said, but faculty want to know how any potential recommendations would affect the academic missions of smaller units.
"It seems like this review has been taking place in these committees, very quietly," she said.
Burbules has no problem with the confidentiality.
"This was a serious exercise in reviewing at the widest possible level the structure and organization of the university, the kind of process that President Hogan would have been better off if he had tried to implement, but he didn't. It's long overdue. And I think it is going to have significant and dramatic effects for the university."