Trustees vote to dismiss tenured professor; more updates from the meeting

By MaryCate Most

Editor’s note: This page will be updated throughout the Nov. 14 Board of Trustees meeting in Springfield.

(4:30 p.m.)- Illinois Connection, a University networking group, is working on an initiative to “cultivate key contacts” within their group of grassroots workers, said Illinois Connections director Amy Eichhorst.

Illinois Connection, which is a part of the University of Illinois Alumni Association, will begin searching for notable alumni who have connections to key legislators, in order for the University to have a greater influence over legislation.

The group plans to start building a broader network this year and to be fully functional by December 2015.

“We know that we have a very strong grassroots network, and we will continue to grow that,” Eichhorst said. “We will actually ask that (alumnus) to be the key contact for (their) legislator so that more and more legislators in the state are hearing about higher education and the University.”

By identifying these “legislative targets” from all 177 state and 20 federal districts, Eichhorst said she hopes that the University will expand its sphere of interest.

The group will also start to focus in on specific issues, working together to achieve particular goals on behalf of the University.

“The key issues that we are advocating for need to be clear and specific so that we are all on the same page,” Eichhorst said. “We are really getting sophisticated with this and making sure that we know what our alumni are going to ask for.”

In the past, the group has advocated for certain issues by encouraging student letter writing campaigns, meetings with legislators and other advocacy, Eichhorst said. This push for more influential alumni to become involved is expected to go one step beyond these students’ actions, she added.

As the Illinois Connection network expands, Eichhorst has seen an increasing number of participants from a younger demographic. This year, the group has about 5,000 activists between the ages of 21 and 30.

“We also started to reach out as students graduate,” she said. “These are alumni that may not have the financial means to get involved, but they will give us their time and their activism and hopefully someday… they will be able to give to us financially as well.”

Illinois Connection has also started seeing this alumni involvement occurring on a global scale; the association now has representatives in 41 countries, Eichhorst said.

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(3:10 p.m.)-  The University is still facing significant difficulty when it comes to budgetary issues and debt, Comptroller Walter Knorr said during the Audit, Budget, Finance and Facilities Committee presentation at the Board of Trustees meeting Thursday.

“On the quantitative features, we are positive on everything but the state relationship and the state rating,” he said.

Knorr said that, in terms of debt capacity, the University is still hoping to maintain an AAA rating on the Moody’s Corporation credit rating scale. This rating puts the University ahead of Ohio State University and Michigan University but behind all other Big Ten universities. University debt is currently sitting at more than $1 billion, Knorr said.

There have also been concerns regarding the Medicaid trust fund running short at the University, Knorr said.

“We were made aware in October that we were going to have some difficulty getting a reimbursement of our Medicaid charges for FY13,” Knorr said. “This was also going to potentially effect our FY14 receipts.”

The University is working with the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services in order to deal with the Medicaid charges, Knorr said. There remain some issues with the state that need to be dealt with, he said.

“The IGPA (Institute of Government and Public Affairs) released a report a couple of weeks ago about the state of the state,” Knorr said. “It was a rather dismal outlook for the state, even dealing with pension and with the increased tax surcharge—still the state had a lot of problems.” 

However, he also noted that the state of Illinois did have a better year in FY13—this past year they are down $6.1 billion, including its debt to the University. This is an improvement of approximately 2 billion dollars. The state of Illinois still owes the University $289 million, Knorr said.

In the coming year, the University will have to put unfunded pension obligations on its balance sheet as well, he said.

“We gotta get over this pension crisis,” Knorr said.
 
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(2:00 p.m.)- The Board of Trustees has voted to approve the resolution and decision for dismissal of professor Louis Wozniak.

“This has been a long and deliberative process governed by the University statutes,” President Robert Easter said. “The goal throughout has been to give due process to the professor, and we have now arrived at a decision.”

Wozniak has already been suspended for his actions, which include sending inappropriate messages to students, disregarding student privacy and creating a hostile environment in his class, according to a report from the Board of Trustees.

“This is a unique experience in the history of the University,” Easter said. “It has been very difficult for us having to make a decision.”

The termination process will now be invoked, and the campus will work with Wozniak on his transition out of the University, University spokesman Tom Hardy said.

This is the first time in the history of the University that a professor has been dismissed by the Board, Easter said.

“There have been other instances in which faculty have opted to leave the University after dismissal proceedings,” he said.

Easter defended his decision and the decision of the Board by stressing the necessity to remove Wozniak for student safety.

“We have clear obligations relative to our students and to the families they come from to protect a great number of their rights,” Easter said. “The concern rose to a level that we felt this action was necessary.”

Wozniak’s pension, however, will not be revoked, Easter said.

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(1:15 p.m.)– At the University Board of Trustees meeting Thursday, trustees discussed sources of funding for the University in the future. Tom Farrell, of the University of Illinois Foundation, emphasized a need to invest in more communication with alumni around the world in order to increase donor funding.

“We want to improve our communications and branding activities so that we can get our message out to the community and to the world that we are great,” Farrell said. “It is imperative from an investment point of view.”

Student trustee of the Chicago campus Danielle Leibowitz, said that she believes that “students will want to give back,” but she also inquired where the money was coming from to fund the investments that Farrell addressed.

Comptroller Walter Knorr said there have been a number of budget meetings with the campuses about how to “round up and finish off the support” to find the resources needed to increase investment and eventually return on those investments.