White speaks to raise support for Global Campus

By Riley Roberts

In his continuing effort to shore up support for the Global Campus Initiative, University President B. Joseph White spoke at a town-hall meeting Monday, telling faculty, students and members of the press that the University needs to take the reins of online learning from the University of Phoenix and become the leader in the field.

The meeting was hosted by the Urbana-Champaign Senate, and White and Special Assistant Chester S. Gardner were on hand to provide information and receive feedback from students and professors.

“I hope this morning we will talk about why we’ve made this a priority,” White said. “We need to examine this question: can we combine the user-friendliness of the University of Phoenix with the academic quality of U of I?”

The plan to offer online learning programs is known as the Global Campus initiative, and calls for each of the existing three University campuses to aid in the development of online degree programs. Eventually, if the programs became viable, a Global Campus would be created and independently accredited so that it could award degrees under its own authority.

Such a move is inevitable in the long run, White and Gardner said, but the key is quality. They want to place the University system on the forefront of this movement.

“I think online education can be equal to, and in some cases surpass, face-to-face teaching,” Gardner said. “This has the potential to broaden the reach of this university.”

White, too, maintained that quality education can be achieved online.

“I think there is a moral dimension to this whole thing,” he said. “The evidence shows that what quality online education can do is bring college education to disproportionately underrepresented people.”

White said the creation of the Global Campus is an outgrowth of the continuing mission of the University, and, because it will be created as a for-profit initiative, has the potential to ease the University’s financial stresses.

After briefly outlining their ideas about the program, White and Gardner handed the floor over to the audience, which was composed of mainly faculty members. Many seemed concerned about the implications of online learning, questioning its value as opposed to face-to-face education, while others supported the initiative based on prior experiences with teaching via the Internet.

“I’m a little skeptical of something that will make money for the University,” Bettina Francis, professor of entomology, told White. “How do you square that with the goals of this institution?”

White asserted financial incentives were lowest on the priority list.

Gardner hailed previous successes the Urbana-Champaign campus has celebrated when it comes to technology-assisted learning.

He tried to ease the worries of anxious professors by indicating that the University’s track record is superb when it comes to such issues.

“Right here on this campus, the graduate school of Library and Information Sciences has developed an online program,” he said. “This program is ranked first in the nation.”

Faculty members pressed White and Gardner with questions about the feasibility of the program, its quality and the impact it might have on classroom instruction. Some spoke of academic prejudices against online learning, and many decried such feelings as unfounded, relating positive personal experiences to show that it can be a very effective way to teach.

Students and faculty members can find more information about the program through the University Web site, and White encouraged concerned parties to communicate with University administration.

“There’s no point in starting down this path unless we intend to become the quality leader,” White added. “That’s the thing we can bring to the party . (and) the faculty must lead.”