By Melissa Mitchell Last July, the Illinois General Assembly presented the UI with a welcome surprise in the form of an operating budget that included a $15.2 million increase from last year. And by now, it's probably no surprise that the state appropriation included money to fund a salary program that is providing an average pay increase of 3 1/2 percent for most employees. As always is the case, some employees will actually receive more, and others less, depending on priorities set by individual campus units. "We're trying to do a fair amount on salary," said Larry Faulkner, vice chancellor for academic affairs. "At least compared to recent years, this will feel substantial," he said, adding that "salary has been a high priority item among the campus deans, whose emphasis has been on ensuring competitiveness without stripping our ability to address programmatic needs." Faulkner noted that the UI's salary increase compares well with those provided at public peer institutions this year. In fact, he said, "we expect to have some of the higher percentages in the Big Ten this year." Indeed, for most faculty and staff members, increased salaries will be the most obvious benefit of this year's beefier budget. But by far the biggest beneficiaries, according to Faulkner, are academic programs. "All aspects of campus life will benefit from an improved budget year," he said. "The things we're trying to address will affect the lives of faculty, staff and students in several ways - through classroom renovation, through the purchase and installation of new equipment, through an improved capacity for important new research initiatives." Worth noting, he added, is that "not all of what we're seeing - in terms of new revenue for academic programs - is the fruit of new state funding. A lot is the result of the campus's renewed ability to address needs by reallocation of its own funds through comprehensive and carefully considered measures over the past four to five years. In the past, we have been so constrained by our own budgeting commitments and lack of new funds. We should congratulate ourselves because we're beginning to see the ability to do something new again." Among the funds made available through internal reallocation prescribed by the so-called DeVor plan - in effect, the recommendations of a strategic planning committee chaired by engineering professor Richard DeVor - are $500,000 for classroom renovation. The DeVor plan was adopted by the campus in 1991, but was not implemented until last year, due to budget shortfalls in recent years. One of the key elements of this year's effort to direct new funds to academic areas involves the Discovery Program, Faulkner said. The new program, which aims to enhance the freshman experience at the UI by various means - most notably through the creation of small freshman seminars - will serve 1,500 students this semester in its inaugural term. "Another set of commitments relates to general education," Faulkner said. "We're still trying to fund and develop the general education components mandated by the [Urbana-Champaign] Senate in 1989." Faulkner said $350,000 will be directed to those ongoing initiatives. "Basically, we're paying bills for things we've been working on, i.e., implementation of the Composition II and Quantitative Reasoning I course requirements." In addition, he said, some new money has been earmarked for covering costs associated with the implementation this year of a common course list for new freshmen - another change mandated by the general education requirements. Faulkner said the campus also will direct new funds toward "curricular renewal," that is, making money available to a couple of colleges, such as Commerce and Business Administration, to fund changes in its foreign language requirements. Yet another component of this year's plan to improve the university's delivery of undergraduate education involves "focusing on resolving access problems." "We will be putting money into impacted areas where students were having problems with access to courses," Faulkner said. Finally, he said, priorities have been shifted to ensure that new funds will be used to make "an investment in active learning." By that, Faulkner said, he means "trying to resolve long-standing problems associated with large, unsectioned general education courses where students just sit and listen to a lecturer. To address the problem, "we're trying to find ways of dividing the large lectures," in most cases, by adding discussion groups. "We're also focusing - in the long run - on a scheme to bring more faculty to campus" in order to increase the number of sections offered, he said. On a related note, Faulkner mentioned that before Robert Resek stepped down recently from his post as vice president for academic affairs, he "invested $150,000 on each campus in new faculty positions, with the condition that departments receiving them are able to provide improved delivery of undergraduate instruction." Faulkner said this year's budget also includes new money for "expansion of the Campus Honors Program, minority fellowships, educational technologies and classroom renovation - which will involve some investment in teaching tools." Faulkner added that "the better part of $1 million" remains unallocated. After reviewing updated proposals, Faulkner and the Budget Strategies Committee will distribute remaining funds to units whose program needs best match current goals and objectives.