The university's top administrators covered a wide variety of topics at the Urbana-Champaign Senate-sponsored annual meeting of the faculty, held Oct. 26 in the Illini Union Ballroom.
The state budget, the chancellor search, upcoming work on the university's Strategic Plan, the censure by the American Association of University Professors – even "the Chief" – all were addressed by U. of I. President Timothy L. Killeen and Interim Chancellor Barbara J. Wilson.
Killeen said the state budget impasse is still the major issue facing the university, and that he and other education officials continue to impress upon legislators that higher education is key to the state’s economic recovery.
"We are advocating strenuously," he said. "The feedback from Springfield has been great. (The importance of higher education) is the one thing that everyone actually seems to agree on. I'm optimistic there will be a (budget) resolution soon."
The advocacy has included working with the leaders of the state's other public universities to drive home the far-reaching impact of higher education in Illinois. Killeen also recently joined students for a rally in Springfield and had a face-to-face meeting last week with Gov. Bruce Rauner.
The university stands in a long line with other state services and programs that are waiting for the budget impasse to be solved to restore state funding. The university has maintained operations despite receiving no state funds since fiscal year 2016 began July 1.
Media reports have said Rauner, Illinois House of Representatives Speaker Michael Madigan and other leaders plan to meet soon to discuss the budget. Killeen said he is optimistic the leaders will be able to navigate the "turbulence" and reach an agreement soon.
Meanwhile, despite the uncertainty, Killeen said the U. of I. continues to move forward.
He cited several recent accomplishments and rankings, and said the U. of I. is still a desired destination for top students. He said it also keeps attracting top-flight teaching and research talent, with 120 faculty members added this fall.
"There's tremendous scholarship going on all across campus," he said. "We're creating new knowledge."
With a record 80,000-plus students enrolled this fall and significant increases in both in-state and underrepresented students, Killeen said the university continues to fulfill its land-grant mission.
He said the growing number of students leads to more challenges, including greater consideration of capacity and facilities.
Killeen also said work is well underway on a unversitywide strategic plan, which takes into account existing campus strategic plans and will be developed in consultation with campus constituencies. Town Hall meetings are scheduled on each campus next month to gather feedback, including one on the Urbana campus from 3-5 p.m. Nov. 18 at the Beckman Center auditorium.
The document will set future priorities to guide the university for the next 5-10 years. Killeen said he hopes to submit the plan to the U. of I. Board of Trustees at its May 19 meeting.
He said the board has given him relatively free rein to address university issues and that they have kept their distance regarding academic issues.
While there has been a faculty backlash to the board's decision to expand the university's background check policy, he said the intent of the policy is to protect students. Faculty members have said the checks are excessive, intrusive and possibly discriminatory against minorities.
Their suggestions for ways to better protect candidates have been forwarded by the appropriate campus senate committees to the provost, and the provost is forwarding those concerns to Christophe Pierre, the university's vice president for academic affairs. Pierre will make recommendations to the board in January based on those suggestions.
Killeen said it’s a sign the university's shared governance system is working as intended.
"You can't have critical thinking unless you have criticism," he said. "We want to restore trust in our governance system."