While the agenda for the UI Board of Trustees March 11 meeting included several weighty matters, such as naming the committee members to lead the search for a new president and considering a proposal to revamp the university’s need-based financial aid program, it was a matter not on the agenda that took center stage, drawing a throng of spectators to the Illini Union in Urbana and prompting a plea for action from student trustee Nate Allen.
Groups of people on both sides of the Chief Illiniwek issue held all-night vigils on the Quad outside the Illini Union and nearly filled the rooms where the board met. Some apparently hoped to pressure the trustees into placing the matter on the agenda and rendering an immediate decision. The board heard testimony from several speakers with differing viewpoints on the issue at the beginning of the meeting, and Board Chairman Lawrence Eppley urged people to engage in constructive dialogue but said the board would not be addressing the issue that day.
Late in the board’s afternoon session, Allen announced his intention to place a proposal to retire the Chief on the board’s April agenda.
“I’m not going to get into the argument of whether it’s racist or not. But it’s racially divisive,” Allen said about the Chief controversy. “I apologize for putting others in this position, but I am doing my job as student trustee and what I see going on on campus is truly saddening and has to be somehow resolved.”
A student referendum on whether to keep the Chief is scheduled for March 16-17 on the Urbana campus, but the decision on the Chief’s fate rests with the board.
“I think it would be in the interests of the board not to continue to have these circuses,” Eppley said in response to Allen’s remarks. “I think in all fairness, Trustee Allen, it is quite disrespectful (to) the board. I think as we consider things we should do them on our own time frame.”
Trustee Devon Bruce said that a board committee is drafting an amendment to the bylaws that would establish a protocol for adding items to the agenda, mandating that proposed items be endorsed by a requisite number of trustees before they can be placed on the agenda.
On March 12, Eppley announced that the April meeting had been canceled because of insufficient business since the board had met four times during the previous five months. Allen said he plans to introduce his resolution at the board’s next scheduled meeting in June.
In other business, Vice President Chester Gardner presented a proposal to revise the MAP Supplemental Financial Aid program. Gardner’s recommendations included indexing the amounts of the supplemental awards on tuition and mandatory fees only; limiting awards to eight semesters, with an additional semester available at campus discretion; and allocating additional funds for the program with fixed multipliers of the percentage increases in undergraduate tuition income at each campus.
The proposed multipliers would ensure that program funding would increase in correlation with tuition and fee hikes in future years, Gardner said.
The university committed to filling the “MAP gap,” the difference between the maximum MAP award and tuition and mandatory fees, in the 1995-1996 academic year when tuition and fees at UIC and Urbana first exceeded the state’s maximum MAP award. Cuts in the state’s MAP stipends, tuition increases and the addition of tuition surcharges in recent years have inflated student need from $2.2 million in FY02 to $16.2 million in FY04.
Gardner said 21 percent of resident undergraduates at Illinois receive the supplemental funding, which averages about $2,000 a year. If the supplemental program were completely eliminated, recipients’ student loan debt would increase by about $8,000-10,000 by graduation, he said.
Under the proposed program, the university will spend $20.9 million or 7 percent of total undergraduate tuition on supplemental MAP grants in FY05.
Gardner said that the only alternatives to the program proposal would be to cap the amount the university would spend or recruit private endowments to fund the program, an option he said was probably unrealistic because it would require $400-500 million in endowments next year.
Trustee Frances Carroll expressed concern that the program changes would preclude students from attending the university or burden them with debt.
“We’re talking about $21 million for this and another $14 million in budget cuts next year,” Trustee Kenneth Schmidt said. “That’s $35 million we have to find someplace. We also have a responsibility to maintain the academic integrity of the academy. This is a major philosophic question for this board.”
The trustees likely will vote on the proposed program at their next meeting.
In other business
- Steve Voss of EnnisKnupp reported that the UI and UI Foundation endowment pools appreciated 24 percent in FY03, ending with balances of $214.3 million and $699.3 million respectively, but lagged the benchmark by 0.4 percent. Voss said that EnnisKnupp will be recommending that the university investigate diversifying its real estate investments and solicit proposals for a new fixed-income investment manager to replace Morgan Stanley.
- Charles Rice, vice chancellor for health affairs at UIC, reported that the medical center’s financial performance in FY04 is being compromised by significant revenue reductions and expense increases. During the first seven months of FY04, operating revenue decreased by about $3.1 million, in part because of higher-than-budgeted expenses for salaries, benefits and supplies. This fiscal year, the medical center will experience $5.6 million reductions in Medicaid and Medicare revenues and be faced with $6.6 million in expenses for case settlements and malpractice support.