Bob Easter on Sunday officially became the 19th president of the UI.
“I can’t tell you the privilege I feel serving in this role,” Easter told a gathering of journalists and staff members assembled Monday in the lobby of the president’s Henry Administration Building office in Urbana.
“I’ve had so many people come to me during this transition and express their support,” he said. “I truly look forward to the time before us.”
Easter, a former dean of the Urbana campus’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, had served as president-designate for three months following the resignation of President Michael J. Hogan.
Easter said Monday that he has spent the last few months becoming more familiar with the issues facing the university, as well as discovering specific issues facing each of the three campuses. He said each campus has its own “unique role” in improving the lives of the state’s residents and that the university’s core missions are unchanged.
“(The Urbana campus) has been my only professional home,” he said. “It’s been great getting to meet the faculty and staff members (from the other campuses).”
He said it would take the hard work of staff and faculty members at all three campuses to “expand our rich legacy.”
Some of the time during Easter’s formative months has been spent on lobbying efforts before the Illinois Legislature, which has targeted university pension and health benefits in efforts to reduce costs and a burgeoning state deficit.
“Those legislators are truly critical (to the university’s mission),” he said.
While some of those benefits have diminished, Easter said the university is still competitive compared to other universities and continues to be “an attractive place to work.”
Easter said a top priority is finalizing next fiscal year’s budget, which will reflect a 6 percent reduction in state funding.
He said the change in university leadership has not diminished the problems facing the university, which include student tuition and access issues.
Easter said he will challenge the UI to rediscover its roots, formulated in the 1862 Morrill Act, and to “focus on engaging the ordinary people, not the elite” in sharing the “transformative power of education.”
“It’s being tested now as never before in our history,” he said of that mission. “We can allow ourselves to drift into mediocrity, or we can define a future that is consistent with our history and our core values.”
He said the new era includes a period of introspection as leaders consider what programs and offerings are supportive of the university’s core mission and what are not.
“Our challenge is to understand what counts,” he said. “And we need to do all this with an eye toward economic growth. I sense a desire to make the tough decisions.”