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University officials host town hall, addresses campus concerns

Chancellor+Robert+Jones+discusses+the+current+challenges+the+University+is+facing+at+the+Illini+Student+Union+on+Wednesday.
Chancellor Robert Jones discusses the current challenges the University is facing at the Illini Student Union on Wednesday.

Chancellor Robert Jones discusses the current challenges the University is facing at the Illini Student Union on Wednesday.

Patrick Li

Patrick Li

Chancellor Robert Jones discusses the current challenges the University is facing at the Illini Student Union on Wednesday.

Luke Cooper, Staff Writer

The Senior Leadership Team of the University held a town hall meeting at the Illini Union to discuss the state of the University and the challenges it faces with faculty, staff and students Wednesday afternoon.

“Higher education is facing some of the most significant challenges in the history of higher education in this country,” said Chancellor Robert Jones. “Not only do we have to contend with the episodic issues of declining state support, but now, declines in federal funding are also one of the things that we must contend with.”

The event began with a brief update on the University’s budget plan presented by Interim Provost John Wilkin and Vice Provost Paul Ellinger.

Ellinger said the goal of the budget plan is to help reduce the risks of the University’s reliance on state financial support, to establish financial sustainability for the University and to build synergy amongst campus departments.

The budget plan presentation was followed by a roundtable-style conversation moderated by MCB Professor Gene Robinson and history Professor Antoinette Burton. Senior leadership team members involved in the discussion were Interim Provost John Wilkin, Vice Chancellor Barry Benson, Vice Chancellor Renee Romano, Vice Chancellor for Research Peter Schiffer and Chancellor Jones.

A wide array of issues were addressed by the senior leadership team, from polarizing issues such as the University’s handling of budget conflicts to the school’s chalking policy.

However, conversation drifted toward issues such as the feelings of uncertainty among international and minority students, state federal budget shortcomings and public misunderstanding of higher education’s role.

During the Q&A portion of the event, a member of the Black United Front addressed the lack of public discussion on student diversity in comparison to issues such as the budget.

“I’ve only been here six and a half months,” Jones responded. “I spent over 27 years of my career advancing the notion of equity and diversity, providing the opportunity to educate more underrepresented students across every university I’ve been a part of.”

Sophomore in Education and soon-to-be College of Education Senator for the Illinois Student Government, Natalie O’Callaghan, asked the team about the condition of mental health services at the University, noting the apparent suicide which occurred at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts earlier that day.

Romano said the University acknowledges that it needs to expand counseling services for students but was concerned over the possible raise in student health services fees needed for such an expansion.

The town hall meeting commenced with Jones speaking on the necessity of handling the current issues the University faces.

“The challenges that you see are numerous that lie ahead of us, and I look at challenges as amazing opportunities,” Jones said. “We have the responsibility to tackle these problems head on, not just because it’s something that we should do… these are things that we must do.”

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