By JULIE WURTH
Tumultuous change, probably the most in decades, was the operating principle this past year at the University of Illinois.
Consider that in the last 12 months:
— An admissions scandal led to an overhaul of the UI Board of Trustees and the resignations of President B. Joseph White and Chancellor Richard Herman.
— Stanley Ikenberry, a popular former president, was brought back to right the ship and oversee the transition to a new administration.
— A state budget crisis left the university without several hundred million dollars of promised state funding at the end of June, with little prospect for improvement in the new fiscal year.
— The financial squeeze prompted mandatory employee furloughs, layoffs and other cuts, as well as a major review of university spending.
— The UI also raised tuition by 9.5 percent for entering freshmen — not a popular move with some legislators and, undoubtedly, many students and parents. The total cost of attending the UI is now about $25,000 a year.
So what is there to look forward to this year? More change, more financial trouble, but some progress, too.
After months with an interim president at the helm, President Michael Hogan took office in July. He had been president at the University of Connecticut for just three years, and his departure prompted some grumbling out East. But Hogan, an Iowa native, said he couldn’t pass up the chance to return to the Midwest. He also held senior administrative positions at the University of Iowa and at Ohio State before becoming UConn´s president in September 2007.
His UI salary — a base of $620,000, plus $225,000 in deferred compensation after five years — shocked some on campus and in Springfield. State Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago, held a press conference outside a May trustees meeting in Chicago to blast the board for approving Hogan’s salary along with a 9.5 percent tuition hike.
Ikenberry and other top UI officials said the reaction was understandable, but said they wanted to attract the best possible candidate for the UI and had to pay market rates to get him. Hogan was entitled to $745,000 in total compensation last year at UConn but turned part of it down because of budget problems there. His compensation package at the UI falls in the middle of the Big Ten, officials said.
Hogan will play a big role in the selection of a new chancellor to replace Richard Herman, who resigned in October 2009 under pressure from faculty and others for his role in the “Category I” admissions scandal. Robert Easter has served as interim chancellor and provost since then.
Newspaper reports in spring 2009 had showed that special-interest applicants backed by trustees, politicians and influential alumni received preferential treatment from the UI. A state investigation concluded that admissions officials were pressured to accept dozens of underqualified students over a five-year period, some ahead of more qualified applicants. The UI abolished the Category I system and imposed reforms intended to protect admissions from outside influence.
All but two UI trustees — Frances Carroll and James Montgomery — stepped down, and Gov. Pat Quinn appointed a new board chaired by Chris Kennedy, a Chicago businessman and son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. Ikenberry and other top administrators say the scandal is “behind us.”
The UI’s financial situation isn’t likely to improve much this academic year. The Legislature adjourned in May without reconciling a $6.9 billion budget hole, failing to approve several tax increase proposals with the November elections looming. Instead, legislators gave Gov. Pat Quinn emergency budget authority to make cuts or withhold money from schools, universities and other agencies — authority that expires on Jan. 9, the day the new governor will be sworn in.
Legislators also approved a measure allowing universities to borrow against expected state revenue, so they could pay their bills. But UI officials called that a stopgap measure, and warned that the state could owe the UI as much as $700 million by the end of the year.
The portion of the university budget derived from state appropriations dropped from 44.5 percent in 1980 to 16.4 percent this past year, while the share from tuition rose from 5.7 percent in 1980 to 15.7 percent.
The university appointed more than a dozen budget review committees to consider potential cost savings on everything from research programs to UI Extension. Among the recommendations were outsourcing some information technology services, combining programs that encourage excellence in teaching, reducing overlap in various offices that promote public engagement, and moving Extension out of the College of ACES.
Professor Joyce Tolliver, chair of the campus Senate Executive Committee, believes the budget situation may grow much worse. More budget reports are due in the fall, and that’s just the beginning, she said.
“That might be the easiest part. Once all the reports are in, that’s when decisions have to be made,” she said.
She’s concerned about faculty flight and the impact of budget cuts and tuition increases on students.
The financial projections from top UI budget officials are fairly grim, Tolliver said.
“I just haven’t heard any optimistic voices,” she said.
Life goes on
Even with a spending freeze, layoff and budget cuts, the UI remains the biggest game in town: 40,000 students, 10,000 employees, and 300-plus buildings covering 7.7 square miles. With the Springfield and Chicago campuses combined, it is the state’s largest university with 90,000 students.
And while the UI building boom may have slowed with the economy, construction work continues across campus. On the Quad, the long-awaited Lincoln Hall renovation has begun, though state funding still remains iffy.
The Blue Waters petascale supercomputing center, expected to be the world’s fastest computer, was scheduled to open this summer. The 10-year-old UI Research Park is moving ahead with plans to expand east across First Street, south of the I Hotel and Convention Center.
Ikenberry Commons continues to expand, replacing the Champaign residence halls, more commonly known as the “six-pack.”
And the UI announced in May that it would resume plans to build a wind-turbine as part of an effort to curb energy use and reduce carbon emissions.
Even the administrative and budget turmoil has had an unintended benefit: faculty and students are much more engaged in the governance of the university now, Tolliver said. Both have been involved in budget reviews, and the Senates Conferences, which represents all three campuses, now has a regular spot on the agenda at UI trustees meetings, she said. Trustees also seem much more receptive to faculty views, she said.