Senate Executive Committee discusses campus safety, pensions at meeting

By MaryCate Most

Senate Executive Committee chair Roy Campbell started off the committee meeting by calling for students and faculty to show signs of respect. He first expressed sympathy for the University’s neighboring Big Ten university Purdue that had a school shooting this past week, and then dismay for the crude tweets aimed at Chancellor Phyllis Wise sparked by the University’s decision to continue normal operation Monday.

The chancellor herself addressed the decision to continue with classes. 

“We don’t take (school closings) lightly, and it is not just the chancellor who is deciding this,” Wise said. “I will take responsibility for having made the final decision, but I don’t do it alone.”

Campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler noted that the administration weighs both student and faculty safety with the business and research objectives of the University.

“We have to balance the need to continue business with safety, and our goal is not to take snow days willy-nilly,” Kaler said. “Our goal is always going to be to try to continue business.”

At the meeting, concerns were also raised about when a pension plan is likely to be put into effect and about how much influence the University has had in reversing pension legislation that will be enacted by the state June 1.

“I hear of movement interests from some of our premier faculty,” said Educational Policy Committee chair Gay Miller. “If we can get them information that might have an influence on their decision to stay, it would be very important.”

University President Robert Easter said a supplemental pension plan will be in place by the implementation date.

“I thought it important to get a signal from the board at the last meeting that this was something that we are taking seriously,” Easter said. “That was part of the intent of the resolution — to ensure our community this is something we are getting serious about.”

Faculty and Staff Benefits chair John Kindt proposed University alumni take a part in influencing legislators to make changes to pension legislation.

“It seems to me that if there is an email list of 13,000 (alumni) that some of the numbers we heard today about how the new legislation makes the University of Illinois pension system non-competitive, that in and of itself, communicated by 13,000 (alumni) to decision-makers could have major impact, regardless of what is going on in the court system,” Kindt said.

The University administration budget was brought up by Easter at the meeting, and he discussed the two main parts of the budget: UA administration and UA programs. Vice President Christophe Pierre is trying to make major changes within these two main parts of the budget, returning funds from the online-education initiative known as Global Campus back into the campus budgets, Easter said.

The administration also plans to reinstate an annual review of campus budgets, which did not occur the past two years.

In addition to budget reviews, Easter also took time to discuss yearly salary reviews for faculty.

“I am fully committed to having salary programs year by year,” Easter said. “We see cost of living increases, cost of health increases … it only makes sense that as we go forward, in order to remain fair, there would have to be an adjustment.”

Easter also said the board and the faculty plan on further defining the role of the presidency.

“I think the board is anxious, as Chairman Kennedy indicated, to engage the faculty significantly in this process,” Easter said. “There truly is a need to define the nature of the presidency.”

Easter, as president, has seen the role take on an “external” nature, working with both the University system and the state.

“There is a role for professional representation and there is a role for the representational leadership,” Easter said. “One of the key roles for the presidency is regular engagement with legislators.”

MaryCate can be reached at [email protected]