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PUBLICATIONS Inside Illinois Vol. 23, No. 7, Oct. 2, 2003

Provost: Campus facing challenges with ‘dedication, imagination, excellence’

By Sharita Forrest, Assistant Editor
217-244-1072; slforres@illinois.edu

Despite an effective budgetary cut of more than $48 million this fiscal year through baseline reductions and reallocations for unavoidable expenses, the Urbana campus is making progress in many areas, Provost Richard Herman said at the Urbana-Champaign Senate meeting Sept. 29.

This fiscal year, administrative units were told to plan for budgetary cuts of 10 percent or more and academic units for decreases of 8 percent. Cuts were made differentially rather than across the board, with the primary goal being that of protecting the university’s core missions, Herman said.

As a result of the administrative review that was undertaken, several senior administrator positions were eliminated and other measures were identified that will save more than $3 million annually, Herman said.

Since last fiscal year, staff has been reduced by more than 460 FTEs, comprising about 32 faculty positions, more than 110 graduate teaching assistant positions and 310 net FTE academic and civil service positions. Student Affairs cut 35 FTE staff and more than $500,000 in operating funds.

During the past two years, the university’s general revenue funds have declined 21.5 percent and tuition revenues have increased by 41.2 percent.

Salary increases for faculty and staff members were deemed high priorities in the FY04 budget; the preliminary state budget request for FY05 contains a 4 percent general salary increase and a 2 percent retention increase, Herman said.

As of the 10th day of instruction this semester, 260 courses and sections had been eliminated, with 229 of those being 100-level courses. However, administrators are considering restoring some of the Freshman Discovery courses that were canceled for spring semester 2004, especially those related to the cross-campus initiatives.

“In summary, the cuts we’ve had to make this year are real and large, and they’re troubling for all who care about the quality of this institution,” Herman said.

However, despite its fiscal constraints, the campus’s external funding for research and research expenditures are at all-time highs, and Illinois leads all universities in the receipt of National Science Foundation funding for the fifth year. Other initiatives, such as the Institute for Genomic Biology, the Siebel Center and the new department of bioengineering, are moving forward as well.

“From my point of view, this institution is facing serious challenges with dedication, imagination and excellence,” Herman said. “We are choosing to keep Illinois the type of place that attracted all of us here, a place of exceptional faculty members doing remarkable things, offering the best qualified students access to the public higher education system, to an education equal to the best anywhere, a place where cutting-edge research and quality education are our hallmark. I am proud of how this campus is meeting its challenges, and I’m proud of what we are accomplishing here. All of this is the work of extraordinary faculty, staff and students.”

In other business, the senate approved revisions to the Campus Code that changed how the dean’s list is compiled. Under the new rules, each college will establish its own GPA cutoff to ascertain the top 20 percent of its students each semester. Students taking at least 14 semester hours for letter grades will be eligible. The new policy is expected to take effect in the fall 2004 semester in conjunction with the Banner software implementation.

However, after considerable debate, the Senate voted to remand a proposal about grading to the Educational Policy Committee for further study. The proposal recommended implementing 0.3 and 0.7 as the letter grade weights for pluses and minuses respectively. Current policy uses the decimal equivalents of 0.33 and 0.67 for pluses and minuses, which the committee said conflicts with Senate policy stating that GPAs should be calculated on “effective numerical grade weight increments of one-third.”

The committee’s proposal said this practice is imprecise and produces false 1.99 GPAs that can be a disadvantage for students with borderline scores. The committee said the change would not only render greater mathematical precision in grading, it would also conform to Senate policy and to the practices of peer institutions.

Several faculty and students objected to the proposal because they believed the rationale behind it was software inflexibility.

“Our computers should implement the principles we decide, not change the principles because of a perception that the computer can’t do it,” said George Friedman, a professor of engineering. “I’m very tired of hearing unimaginative computer professionals tell us that the (computer programs) can’t handle true thirds. That’s absolute and utterly ridiculous nonsense. Let’s do this if and only if we really want to have the difference and abandon the idea of thirds.”

Architecture professor Abbas Aminmansour, vice chair of the educational policy committee, said the impetus for the proposal was not the limitations of Banner, UI Direct or any other program, although they and any commercially available software are incapable of utilizing true thirds grading system.

“The point is whether we want to carry those decimal places,” Aminmansour said.

During discussion, Aminmansour and history professor Vernon Burton, committee chair, said modifying the programs to accommodate the true thirds system would be cost-prohibitive, according to the software vendors they have consulted.

Other senators rejected the proposed change in grading saying it would have a negligible effect on GPAs and would not correct existing problems. Some senators said they believed it also would exert undue pressure on faculty to adapt their grading to conform to the system.

The senate also:

  • Approved a proposal to establish a doctoral degree program in chemical engineering with the National University of Singapore (NUS). The doctoral program supplements the joint master of science program that UI established with NUS in 1998. The programs are intended to help students develop an international perspective on their profession through approximately two years of research and study at each institution and to enhance UI’s visibility with corporations and agencies that support the university and employ its graduates.
  • Passed a proposal sponsored by the deans of the colleges of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences; Engineering; Liberal Arts and Sciences; and Veterinary Medicine to found an interdisciplinary master of science degree program in bioinformatics. The program, which will be offered in the fall semester 2004, will offer options in the department of computer science and the department of chemical and biomolecular engineering, with other campus units expected to develop additional options later. The steering committee cited a need for the program based upon student interest and a burgeoning global demand for scientists and engineers trained in the analysis and application of biomolecular data. Numerous institutions, including Harvard University, Indiana University, Bloomington, and the University of Michigan have founded interdisciplinary bioinformatics programs, centers and degrees.
  • Granted formal approval for establishing the bachelor of arts/master of arts 4+1 degree program in urban and regional planning. Although the program has been listed for several years in the Programs of Study catalog, it had never received formal approval.
  • Voted to discontinue the undergraduate economics major in the College of Business.

  • Passed a proposal that supported adding a seventh goal to the Illinois Commitment, the principles for colleges and universities adopted by the Illinois Board of Higher Education, to the effect that the institutions will enhance and enrich the quality of life for all Illinois citizens. Ken Andersen, senate representative to the faculty advisory council of IBHE, sponsored the proposal, which he said is intended to help “slow down the slope” of reduced public funding for higher education.

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