UI panel issues 47 recommendations in revised administration report
Top University of Illinois administrators have turned down a recommendation to dismantle the university-level office that oversees campus research parks and the new UI Labs initiative in Chicago.
But the vice president for research may get a new name to clear up confusion about authority over research activities at the UI's three campuses, according to UI President Robert Easter.
The recommendation to eliminate the vice presidency now held by Lawrence Schook was part of a sweeping review of central UI business and administrative units completed last August.
The review committee's final report, issued Friday, contains 47 recommendations to improve efficiency, emphasizing collaboration, customer service and a partial shift of responsibility to the campuses from central administration.
Many have already been approved by Easter and a senior advisory team headed by Christophe Pierre, vice president for academic affairs.
— Retooling the Institute of Government and Public Affairs so that it would no longer have tenured faculty positions but instead will invite UI professors with expertise in a specific area to join its staff temporarily. The UI will also conduct a review to examine its structure and scope.
— Completing a move to place all responsibility for online courses at the three campuses by eliminating the UI Online program. This continues a shift away from university-centered projects like the ill-fated Global Campus.
— Charging university-related organizations such as the UI Research Park, UI Foundation and UI Alumni Association for legal services provided by the university's lawyers.
— Moving several other functions or programs under campus authority, including the President's Award Program and some IT and human resources services.
The report opened the door for faculty and staff members to talk with those in university administration who provide services for them — everything from payroll to purchases to computer trouble-shooting, Easter said today.
"Any organization that functions well takes time periodically to review itself in a serious way. I think we've done that, and we've done it in a way that allowed those who are users of our services to participate," Easter said.
"I think we've identified areas where we need to do some work," he said.
Regarding the IGPA, Easter said it was created in the 1940s as a research arm for legislators, a small office that would call on faculty across the university when a particular issue arose. Over time it became a tenure-granting unit with offices on all three campuses and about 20 faculty.
"I think that took some nimbleness away," Easter said.
The idea is to go back to that earlier model, which would be more akin to that used by the Beckman Institute and similar units at the UI, he said.
The vice president for research was formerly known as the vice president for technology and economic development. Then-UI President Michael Hogan renamed it and broadened its scope, hoping to encourage the campuses to collaborate on big projects, Easter said.
But faculty worried that it would diminish the autonomy of the campuses to manage research, a core mission of the university.
The review committee recommended dissolving the office and moving the research parks and the offices of technology management back to the campuses; placing Illinois Ventures, which invests in Illinois start-up technology firms, under the control of the UI's chief financial officer; and moving other units to the the vice president for academic affairs. Specific initiatives, such as UI Labs, would be handled by a temporary special adviser to the president.
Instead, Easter said he will consider a new title that would more accurately reflect its mission and make clear that the position does not have authority over the vice chancellors for research on the three campuses. He may also strengthen the roles of the vice chancellors over the research parks.
Easter said the office was still evolving when the review team started its work. But he noted that Schook and his staff hit a "home run" with the recent $70 million federal grant to create a digital manufacturing institute in Chicago under the direction of UI Labs.
"It demonstrates the power of actually being able to put the full force of the broad university behind an effort," he said.
The report issued several broad recommendations, urging campus units to emphasize communication and customer service and consult with affected campus representatives before making significant policy decisions. Each unit will also undergo an annual review by a group that includes campus representation, to examine budgets and how well the unit meets customer needs and the university's academic priorities.
The report doesn't project any specific cost savings; in fact, in some cases more staff may be required to improve services or handle new tasks — in procurement review, for example, which has cumbersome new regulations, he said.
"There are areas where it clearly it's most efficient for us to do things centrally. Often it is the case in a large organization that the closer you can keep decisions to the point of action, the more efficient it can be," Easter told The News-Gazette today.