President's Perspective on ...

University Administration Service

Over the course of my nearly 40 years at the University of Illinois, I’ve had the privilege of seeing the University from virtually every angle – as a graduate student, as a faculty member, as a department head and dean, as a chancellor and, for the last two years, as president.

Those varied perspectives have proven time and again that the University of Illinois is truly one of the world’s premier universities, a globally respected leader in education and discovery. They also have shown me that the very heart of what we do is rooted on our three great campuses.

Our campuses are at the center of each of the University’s four core missions – that’s where we do the teaching, conduct the research, share our knowledge through public engagement and foster the innovation that promotes economic development. All other units, including University Administration, exist to support them, and their efforts to deliver on the University’s commitment to serve our state and nation.

"campuses are the heart, UA is the backbone"That in no way diminishes the key role that University Administration plays. If campuses are the heart of the University, UA is the backbone – providing essential business and operational support, along with leadership that helps campuses forge a shared vision and promotes their interests through a single voice.

Consolidated systems in UA such as payroll and benefits ensure a higher level of quality and service, and at significantly lower cost than through separate systems on each campus. Those human resources functions are among many that help UA serve the needs of our campuses, including auditing, ethics training and enforcement, fiscal and facilities planning, legal counsel, purchasing, and student accounts.

Efficiency through economy of scale has never been more important as the University seeks to weather declines in state funding and preserve its land-grant mission of affordability by holding down student costs. Every dollar saved is a dollar that can go toward education and research, and UA has kept a watchful eye on its own spending – trimming annual costs by nearly $7 million in the last decade.

Along with support services, UA also provides crucial leadership and advocacy for our campuses. UA works with lawmakers in Springfield and Washington, promoting funding and legislation to benefit our campuses. It brings together campus leaders to address the challenges facing higher education and develop a unified vision and strategy for the future. And by working in concert with campuses, it serves as a single voice for the University, giving our many stakeholders one place to turn rather than three when they need answers.

Building on the relationship between UA and campuses was the genesis of a recently completed review I commissioned that brought together representatives from campuses and UA to examine every unit in UA and their contributions to the core missions carried out on our campuses.

The final report (PDF) concluded that UA’s work is essential to the effectiveness of the University as a whole, and the chancellors and I have approved a series of recommendations that seek to further enhance service to the campuses — all centered on issues of involving better communication, building trust, and engaging campuses in the UA decision-making process.

“As a general rule,” the report says, “the more campuses engage with and understand UA processes, and vice versa, the less prevalent will be the ‘us vs. them’ mentality that many current practices tend to encourage both on the campuses and in UA.”

March 2014