UI president Easter speaks on funding efforts, ‘College Promise’


President Robert Easter answers questions of his staff and faculty during the monthly Senate Executive Meeting at the English Building on Monday.

By Abigale Svoboda

Monday might have been President Robert Easter’s last annual meeting with the Senate Executive committee, members joked, as he is set to retire for the third time as University president.

Roy Campbell, SEC Chair, opened the meeting with words of gratitude and appreciation for Easter’s almost four years as president. 

In the next few months of transition leading up to his June retirement, Easter said he is enjoying working with his successor, Timothy Killeen, who has been working with the University as an academic hourly. In his remaining time as president, Easter said he has been dealing with many items typical for this time of year, such as budgetary items. 

The meeting allowed SEC members to ask Easter questions on a variety of University-related subjects. 

Easter on funding

Easter estimated the state owes the University over $300 million at the moment. However, he expects that number to grow until a resolution is met. He and other University officials will meet with Gov. Bruce Rauner’s current higher education counsel in Chicago on Wednesday. 

Easter is also expecting a budget recommendation from the state in February.

“I really don’t think there will be much in the hopper, in terms of budget, until (Rauner) puts something on the table,” Easter said.

Easter on the College of Medicine proposal

In November, the Board of Trustees appointed Easter to conduct a study on both the Urbana and Chicago campuses College of Medicine proposals. Urbana proposed a bioengineering-focused program, while Chicago proposed an Illinois Translational Bioengineering Institute. 

Easter said there is still no decision on which campus, Urbana or Chicago, will ultimately be home to a new University College of Medicine; however, he did note that both campuses have good, but different, qualifications.

“I think this campus (Urbana) has seen an area of significant opportunity,” Easter said.

He added there is a need for more clinical practice and opportunity, something the College of Medicine could provide at the Urbana campus. 

The new chancellor of the Chicago campus, Michael Amiridis, will begin his new position on March 16. The University is currently searching for a new Vice Chancellor of Health Affairs for the Chicago campus. The new title will absorb the current vice president of health affairs job. 

Easter on the ‘College Promise’ and changes in higher education

A few SEC members asked about Easter’s opinion of the “College Promise” President Barack Obama talked about at the State of the Union address. Obama’s proposal supports Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel’s proposed two years of free community college. 

“It’s certainly a laudable objective,” Easter said.

However, he added the question of how it will be implemented and funded always follows. 

Easter said that as the amount of three-year degree programs increase, the University needs to realize surrounding competition, while continuing to provide what three-year programs cannot. However, he said it concerns him that as the University becomes more reliant on tuition, the school grows more focused on “what the consumer is buying.” Easter said he thinks this takes the school away from its original land grant mission: to provide a quality, affordable education to all who are qualified. 

“An engineer who has read Shakespeare is better, maybe even a better engineer, but a better employee,” stated Nick Burbules, chair of General University Policy. 

Burbules exemplified that the general education requirements of the University form more well-rounded students; a product three-year degree programs don’t produce. 

Abigale can be reached at [email protected]