New U. of I. President Timothy R. Killeen already is transitioning to his new position and officially will take over university leadership May 18.
At the March 12 U. of I. Board of Trustees meeting in Urbana, Chair Edward L. McMillan said Killeen already has met with several campus groups, and was involved in the school of medicine recommendation.
“It’s remarkable how much you’ve been involved already,” McMillan told Killeen.
Retiring President Bob Easter’s last official day will be May 17, the day after Commencement.
McMillan and the board also directed Killeen to begin developing a university-wide strategic plan to ensure the U. of I. meets future needs in fulfilling its missions of education, research, public service and economic development.
Killeen said planning will begin soon and the process will be inclusive, incorporating input from the three campuses and strategies from their own visioning plans. The board asked Killeen to complete the plan within 12-18 months.
Killeen, who will update the board on his progress at the July 22 annual retreat, said he already has met with various campus interests in his time here and that he will take the same approach under the visioning process, which will carry a strong student focus.
“A lot of people will be called on to participate,” he said. “The planning process will be inclusive ...a collaboration with our campuses that will forge a vision to guide our collective future.”
Killeen said the university faces challenges, but it also has unprecedented opportunities, such as the formation of the Urbana medical school. He said there are still untapped synergies that the three campuses can develop to further the university’s mission and better serve the state’s citizens.
“We must embrace those opportunities,” he said.
In other business, Walter Knorr, the chief financial officer, said university officials continue to work with state leaders on a range of issues following the inauguration of a new governor and his Feb. 18 call to cut higher education funding by more than 30 percent.
“We’ve been providing a lot of information to the Legislature through the Illinois Board of Higher Education or directly,” he said.
In addition to monetary and budget issues, Knorr said university officials have worked to satisfy two recent executive orders, one covering state employee ethics issues, the other nonessential spending. He said the university has complied with both orders.
Knorr said university officials also are preparing for a public employee compensation hearing and the house and senate appropriations committees later this month to discuss financial issues and the university’s appropriation.
He said officials will argue against the proposed state funding cuts to higher education, which would reduce the university’s current $622 million appropriation to $453 million. He said that level of state support, in inflation-adjusted dollars, would be the lowest since the 1950s. The state also lags by more than $300 million in promised university aid to date, and is around $6 billion behind in payments to vendors.
Knorr said the university’s financial position becomes murkier still when considering both the legislative efforts to shift state-funded portions of health and retirement programs to the university’s books and the ongoing efforts to reduce the Medicaid rate, which already has helped lead to a $7 million shortfall at UIC’s hospital.
“That’s going to be in play here this (legislative) session,” he said. “We’re probably going to be looking at some cost shifting.”
Students, too, are feeling pressure from the state budget crisis. Knorr said the Feb. 22 cutoff by the Illinois Student Assistance Commission for Monetary Award Program student assistance was the earliest it has ever been.
Knorr said the university is unable to blunt the state appropriations impact by using the university’s $2.3 billion endowment, as has been suggested by some, because many of those funds are donor targeted and not as fungible as general revenue funds.
Chancellor Phyllis M. Wise told trustees the cuts would have “great impact” on the Urbana campus and that officials will be communicating that message to legislators leading up to the appropriations meeting March 19.
“We are willing to share the pain,” she said, “but we also want to make it clear that a decrease in state support will have a great effect on us.”
She said her administration is working to identify new funding opportunities, which includes a goal to double fundraising.
“We have to find ways to turn a committed donor into a passionate donor,” she said.
Roy Campbell, the chair of the Urbana-Champaign Senate, reported to trustees that members of the University Senates Conference Budget Committee have discussed developing a framework for detailed discussions with the board concerning academic priorities on the three campuses and how those plans are impacted by budget decisions.
“(The state budget cuts) are clearly going to have an impact,” he said.
He said the discussions would center on educational policy and priorities during times of uncertainty and austerity. One of the topics would be how to reverse the university’s deferred maintenance program to protect current facilities.
Having the talks would also benefit the board, he said, as academic leaders could provide information on how they establish campus priorities. Talking together could lead to greater budget transparency and the ability to better address hiring and retention issues.
“Are there ways to accomplish our mission with less state funding?” he asked rhetorically. “We would like to interact with board members in any way that may be beneficial to the board.”
In the public comment portion of the board meeting, journalism professor Jay Rosenstein suggested the board consider tapping into athletic department revenue, which is administered apart from the normal university budget structure.
He said the university could utilize the new revenue the department takes in each year without affecting the department’s funding base, and that money could be used to reduce in-state tuition costs or to reduce the impact of state cuts.
Robin Kaler, associate chancellor for public affairs, said after the meeting that the idea is well-intentioned, but unfeasible.
“The proposal fails to recognize additional funding for athletics is invested in providing our student-athletes the services and facilities we promised when they chose to compete as representatives of our university,” she said.