Along with the rest of the state, the university is closely monitoring the situation in Springfield, as elected leaders continue to battle over an impasse that has led to nine months without a budget or a higher education appropriation. According to Edward Feser, the interim provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, even with this uncertainty about state support, the campus must move forward with short- and long-term budget planning. Part of long-term planning is an expectation that state support will continue to decline in the future. Feser told Inside Illinois assistant editor Mike Helenthal that a new budgeting approach is needed to help the campus move toward less dependency on state funding, to increase transparency in budgeting, and to ensure fiscal stability and academic excellence into the future.
You've scheduled a series of open campus budget sessions this month. What is the purpose of those sessions?
It is important for the campus community to be informed about the current budget situation and the steps we are taking to address it, both in the short-run and the long-run. Campus administration will not, and should not, try to solve this problem alone. We need to mobilize the knowledge, talent and energy we have across campus. Important goals for these meetings are to share information, generate ideas and engage the campus community as we chart a path forward.
What will you talk about?
I will present basic information about the campus budget model and system, including the various ways revenues are allocated on campus (e.g., undergraduate tuition, graduate tuition, online tuition, indirect cost recovery funds and general revenue funds). We also will discuss various scenarios related to the likely future of state support for the campus and the launch of a budget reform initiative.
The consensus of the Council of Deans and the Campus Budget Advisory Task Force is that our current approach to budgeting and resource allocation has become less effective over time. The intent of the reform effort is to look comprehensively at our budget model with the aim of creating a more strategic and transparent way of allocating resources and sharing costs across campus. Yesterday’s meeting and the remaining meetings on March 14 and March 17 will be the beginning of an ongoing conversation with the campus as we embark on this important project.
We've talked about the U. of I.'s relationship with the state, as far as funding issues, for years now. Why is this budget conversation needed now?
The current campus budget model works reasonably well under conditions of relatively stable state funding. That's the situation we have had for many years, if one considers both our general revenue fund appropriation and payments on behalf (the state’s direct contribution for retirement, health and dental benefits). The state’s fiscal capacity has eroded significantly, however, and we cannot assume its level of financial support for higher education will return once the impasse in Springfield is resolved. Most people are surprised to learn that the state of Illinois is a leader among the states in the Big Ten in supporting public higher education if one considers both the general appropriation and payments on behalf. That has been a big positive for us, but it will be difficult for the state to sustain that level of support given all of the other demands on state resources. We have to be proactive in planning for the possibility of diminished support from the state.
What are some of the things that you are looking for a new budgeting system and model to include?
Greater legibility and transparency with respect to costs and resource allocation, consistent accounting systems and budget planning processes, clearer reporting and appropriate incentives for academic program innovation. If we can achieve those things, it will unleash the creativity and resourcefulness of our faculty and staff members so that we’re using resources as efficiently as possible and pursuing opportunities that will create the revenue streams that will offset declining state funding.
With the initiation of this new approach to budgeting, what will the U. of I. look like in 10 years?
We will continue to run incredible programs and produce incredible graduates who go on to leadership positions around the world. However, we’ll be on a more sustainable financial footing, with our budgeting processes closely aligned with our academic goals.