May 12, 2011

Dear Colleagues,

As the academic year winds down, I'd like to share my appreciation with you and update you on the important work we're doing together. As our commencements conclude, it's a time of celebration and hope, yet a bittersweet moment as we watch our graduates leave us for wonderful careers and great futures all over the world. Our graduates are among those most sought by employers and among those who give the most back to their communities. I'm proud of each of them and of the dedicated faculty and staff who have prepared them for their lives ahead.

We have many other successes to celebrate, too. Our campuses, faculty, staff, and students continue to garner national and international acclaim for their accomplishments. Our Foundation is completing its successful "Brilliant Futures" campaign, which pledges more than $2.3 billion in new support to our University. Our research portfolio is growing. And more students than ever are applying for admission, demonstrating again the high regard for the University of Illinois. We should never lose sight of the tremendous accomplishments of our faculty, staff, and students - the innovative discoveries and many contributions they make to a better future for people all over the world. We are strong and resilient, the economic crisis we face today will pass, and we will emerge better than ever.

Yet, we do need to recognize the challenges still ahead. When I visit with faculty and staff, I hear concerns about pension and benefits. I continue to communicate with leadership in the General Assembly and to our legislators how important it is for the state to fulfill its commitment to our employees on the pension front. We've also been in direct contact with the director of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services on attempts to eliminate Health Alliance as a healthcare option for our current employees and retirees. See <M.J. Hogan, April 12, 2011>. We've communicated that thousands of University employees and retirees would be negatively affected by such an action, and there's good reason to believe that costs would actually increase for the state. Our legislators are listening and we're gaining more support for our position with every passing day.

Another area is procurement, where we've taken a lead role in preparing a document explaining the extensive costs of new regulatory requirements to universities and the state in terms of lost contracts, declining competitiveness, and the loss of precious time and effort. We recognize the importance of fair, legal, and ethical procurement practices. But many of the new regulatory burdens cost the state millions in lost opportunities for the best possible value and service and are undermining participation by vendors, especially small businesses and minority-owned firms. We've presented compelling evidence, and our legislators are interested in working with us on solutions.

Another concern involves "position exemption authority" from the State Universities Civil Service System, under which the University determines if a position is classified as civil service or academic professional, within criteria set forth by state statute. We've made some mistakes, which we're resolved to correct and avoid in the future. A bill introduced in the Senate (SB 1150), however, would remove this authority and undermine our ability to make appointments in response to rapidly arising academic and research needs. The bill is now in the House and we are working closely with representatives to communicate the unique employment situation at the University and the importance of retaining our position-exemption authority.

There are other issues we're weighing in on, including the "concealed carry" legislation (HB 148). We've helped draft amendments that can exempt parts of our campuses from the carrying of concealed weapons, should this legislation pass.  Another is the Illinois DREAM Act (SB 2185). This bill will provide greater support to our undocumented students. As we know, students admitted to the University of Illinois, whether documented or undocumented, are among the nation's brightest. And like all of our graduates, they go on to stellar careers and become tax- paying citizens and contributors to our economy and society. It's important for us, as a nation of immigrants, to ensure that the most precious resources our state has - bright minds - are not closed off from reaching their potential.

I've had many opportunities to speak directly with Governor Pat Quinn, House Speaker Michael Madigan, and Senate President John Cullerton on these and other issues. I'm grateful that they take our views seriously and keep us apprised of developments in Springfield. Several legislators have been very supportive as well, and we're grateful for their help. We also appreciate the efforts of the Alumni Association's Illinois Connection, which organized an impressive "lobby day" at the state Capitol to apprise legislators of the University's needs. They've also supported us by encouraging their members to write legislators and members of our Congressional delegation to support the University. We're fortunate to have such loyal and committed partners. Additionally, our Governmental Relations team is also hard at work on these issues with legislators in their offices and in the halls of the state Capitol. They're working around the clock for us and deserve our thanks for their efforts.

Our budget remains a concern. Earlier, I reported on my testimony before the appropriations committees, which went well. It's clear from these and other conversations that legislators recognize the tremendous value of University of Illinois to the state. They're proud of the U of I and impressed by our efforts to streamline the University's business functions, seek new revenues, improve services, increase efficiencies, and generate millions in cost-savings, while protecting our academic core. Efforts such as the Administrative Review & Restructuring (ARR) programs are helping us achieve this goal, while also making a favorable impression on our legislators. With assistance from Springfield and careful planning on our part, we've avoided furloughs this year and hope to offer a salary program for all eligible faculty and staff in the coming fiscal year.

The Board of Trustees has directed us to continue the ARR efforts and accelerate them in this continued challenging fiscal environment. The ARR Steering Committee - which includes the University Senates Conference Chair, the Chancellors, and the CFO - will continue its work to move these efforts forward. I appreciate the involvement of many of you in this work and the support you're expressing for those leading these efforts.

I know the campuses are engaging in their own reviews and assessments and many of you are participating in those efforts. Please know how grateful I am for your hard work. The decisions we make about implementing ARR and campus initiatives are informed by the insights that you bring to these discussions. Yet, it's important to clarify some misconceptions about the changes we've made. For instance, one colleague shared concerns with me that our consolidation of some of our Human Resources functions removed oversight of faculty recruitment, promotion, and tenure from the campuses. This is not the case - faculty review procedures remain within the purview of the campus.

Others have expressed alarm upon hearing, incorrectly, that changes in administering campus information technology (IT) infrastructure mean that IT budgets and operations at all levels of the campuses would be eliminated. In fact, the majority of IT delivery occurs at the college and department levels and that will continue to be the case. Further, campus chief information officers (CIOs) are retaining their portfolios and are in regular communication with administrators on the campuses. The major change for campus CIOs is that they will play a bigger role in University-wide decisions through their reporting line to the University's Executive CIO. The administrative changes we're making at the infrastructure level will support and improve services, just as they will support our academic and research policies rather than determine those policies.

Change can be difficult, but as one of the world's great centers of research and innovation, we live with and explore change every day. As many of you have shared with me, change is embedded in our research, teaching, and service as we seek ongoing improvement in everything we do and the world in which we live. I appreciate your forward-looking vision and willingness to work on the changes we're currently making and those still ahead. These changes will allow us to save millions to protect and enhance our core academic priorities during these challenging times and to invest in our students, faculty, and staff. I look forward to continuing to work with you as we seek improvements and find solutions to the challenges we face.

I'm grateful that many of you have accepted invitations to serve on advisory groups as we develop governance plans to improve in areas like HR and IT. For example, Michael Hites continues to consult with campus and collegiate IT leaders and a faculty advisory group recommended by the University Senates Conference. He's working closely with them and with provosts and chancellors to establish IT governance plans. Likewise, Maureen Parks continues to consult with campus HR leaders and Larry Schook has formed a faculty advisory committee for the Office of the Vice President for Research. We'll continue this pattern of consultation, just as we have been doing since the ARR efforts were first undertaken last spring.

We have a very promising future ahead. As I've said before, the University of Illinois is a world-class institution, with world-class individuals. I believe our best days are ahead. My belief is based on what I see in all of you - exceptional, hardworking faculty, staff, and students who love the University as much as I do. I wish you all a wonderful summer.

Sincerely,

Mike


Michael J. Hogan
President, University of Illinois