By Craig Chamberlain
New president. New campus. And a group of trustees whose future on the board was in limbo until this spring.
As the UI Board of Trustees began its annual retreat July 10 in Urbana, chairman Thomas Lamont, D-Springfield, made note that the past year had been an eventful one.
Considering the circumstances, "it would have been so easy for us [as a board] to splinter and go off in a number of different directions," he said. Instead, the board and the university made the transitions and avoided major crises along the way.
In what was promised as, and became, a "dog and pony day" of presentations, President James Stukel and other top administrators made it clear that more transition is ahead.
Particularly in the area of procurement and other business operations within the university, "these are not just small changes we're talking about here, these are profound changes," Stukel said. The university will be "a very different place" if most of these changes go forward, he said, though "it could be a bumpy road."
Since taking office almost one year ago, Stukel has talked about making the university "paperless" in many of its business operations, as a means of achieving greater efficiency and saving money.
It was clear from retreat presentations by Craig Bazzani, vice president for business and finance, that coordinating various systems to make that goal and others possible has not been, and will not be, an easy task.
When asked when he expected to achieve the paperless goal, Bazzani said he thought the university would make "significant headway" over the next three years. In addition to changes in computer systems and networking, the transition will require retraining of employees and changing some of the university's culture, he said.
The hoped-for end result, said Stukel and Bazzani, will be a savings of funds and the elimination of numerous positions. Most of the savings, Stukel said, will be channeled into academic departments, and positions will be eliminated only through attrition, retirement and relocation of displaced employees within the university.
The administration's plans got little criticism from trustees, but trustee William Engelbrecht, R-Henry, did caution university officials against certain pitfalls based on his own experience in business. "The savings can be terribly elusive," he warned. Administrators can be reluctant to make the necessary changes in personnel, and can start to do new things just because they are able with new technology, thereby losing the savings gained, he said.
In other presentations that day, trustees heard reviews of the past year from all three chancellors. They also heard reports from various management teams established over the past year to deal with various areas at the university level: academic affairs; governmental relations; technology and telecommunications; and administration, business and human resources.
The next day, during its regular meeting, trustees were told that the university remains mostly in a "wait-and-see" mode in its efforts to keep medical and surgical programs at the Westside VA Hospital, a major training site for the UIC College of Medicine.
All indications are that all the parties involved are cooperating with the General Accounting Office in its investigation of reorganization efforts by the Department of Veterans Affairs, said Richard Schoell, the university's director for federal relations. Currently, the investigation is focused on gathering and analyzing data, and the university wants "to ensure that there's impartiality" in that process, he said.
Stukel made it clear, however, that though the data gathering process was important, he expected that the decision ultimately would be a political one. "We're not putting all our eggs in the analytical basket," he said, noting that efforts were under way to build community and political support, including within the White House.
Trustees also got a preliminary review of budget issues for fiscal year 1997-98. As part of that budget, UIUC will once again be stressing salary increases - "overwhelmingly and to the greatest extent we can afford," according to Larry Faulkner, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs.
Recent experience shows the campus needs to maintain an average annual salary increase of 3.9 percent just to stay even with 20 other research institutions defined as its peers, he said. Even with a 4.7 percent increase in fiscal year 1996, the fourth highest in the group, UIUC did not move out of 19th place among the 21 schools.
The increases are needed in order to retain and recruit high-quality faculty, Faulkner said, but "we're working against a target that is moving."
In order to address a serious backlog of deferred maintenance and to ensure proper spending on building upkeep in the future, Bazzani said the university would begin with fiscal year 1997-98 to include an item for facilities maintenance and renovation within the annual operating budget.
Starting with a request of at least $5 million in the first year, the hope is to increase that each year until the annual investment reaches $23.1 million, he said.
Routine maintenance and renovation of buildings has been deferred in past years as the money was not supplied in state capital appropriations and operating budget increases were assigned to other needs, primarily salary.
Bazzani estimated the maintenance backlog at over $400 million.
The $23.1 million figure was arrived at based on a formula dubbed SR3 (for space repair, renovation and replacement) developed by Harlan Bareither, a retired senior associate vice president for administration. It calls for annual spending of 2/3 of 1 percent of building replacement value per year, with the total estimated cost of replacing all university facilities supported with state funds set at $2.9 billion. (Not included are buildings within the university's Auxiliary Facilities System, which is self-supporting.) This is the spending required, Bazzani said, to ensure that buildings can remain viable through a hoped-for 100-year lifespan.