UI Board waits on state budget, approves background check

By Maggie Sullivan

To officially kick off the academic year, the Board of Trustees approved a widely debated background check procedure, addressed the lack of a finalized state budget and discussed 10-day enrollment numbers.

Background checks

A new background check policy will go into effect Oct. 5 and will require all new faculty, staff, civil service employees and academic professionals to undergo a background check before being hired officially.

The policy, which was approved by the board Thursday, was two years in the making and widely debated.

“There is no list of crimes that will bar someone from employment at the University,” said Maureen Parks, president for human services.

Trustee Patrick Fitzgerald said the goal is to make the campus safe, not deny second chances to people who served time and should be integrated into society.

The policy will not apply to undergraduate or graduate students, volunteers, contractors or people appointed to unpaid positions.

Still waiting on state appropriations

Walter Knorr, vice president and chief financial officer and comptroller, addressed the lack of a state budget and told the members of the board Thursday it is unlikely there will be a budget to present at the Nov. 14 meeting.

“For our purposes, once we get all the ingredients to our appropriation, we probably need about 60 days to put all the work into what needs to be done,” Knorr said. “We will continue to operate on our appropriation from fiscal year 2015 until further notice.”

Knorr reiterated the possible cuts proposed by Gov. Bruce Rauner to the University’s state appropriation could be anywhere from $57 million, 8.5 percent, to $209 million, 31.5 percent.

“This has been a year of continuing challenges,” he said. “This is the first time since 2007 we had a rescission.”

The rescission, or cancellation, in fiscal year 2015 was for $18.4 million.

Knorr said the state of Illinois still owes the University $49 million from fiscal year 2015, which he expects to be paid by the end of September. He said the University was able to make its August payroll with the resources on hand, and he is confident it will make the September payroll as well.

Ten-day enrollment numbers

Members of the board celebrated the record 10-day enrollment numbers, released Tuesday, and also discussed where there is still room for improvement. Ten-day enrollment numbers are a count of all students enrolled across the three university campuses as of the tenth day of classes. This does not include graduate and professional programs or students enrolled online.

Nicholas Burbules, chair of the University Senates Conference, said the University still needs to place importance on the enrollment growth in underrepresented student groups. To better the situation, he suggested a University partnership with underfunded high schools and community colleges.

“If students are not well-equipped in high school or community college, we’re not doing them any favors sending them here,” he said. “We need to improve the preparation of students before they come to the University.”

There is still cause to be proud, Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson said as she announced the historically high University enrollment numbers.

“This is the second highest class of new students that we’ve had in the history of the Urbana campus,” she said. “Clearly Illinois continues to be a destination place for students across the country and around the world.”

The new freshmen class, 7,565 students, is largely from Illinois; 73.1 percent are in-state students.

“I know we have a lot of news we’re not necessarily proud of lately, but I’m trying to turn the tables and emphasize positivity,” Wilson said.

The enrollment of underrepresented and minority students increased, but still only 5.4 percent of the students on the Urbana campus are African-American, said Christophe Pierre, vice president for academic affairs.

“Suffice to say it’s not enough,” Chairman Edward McMillan said. “It’s not a destination, it’s a journey.”

Wilson noted the decision to do away with the “wait-list” and announce all admissions in February ended up having an overall favorable effect on yield, though she hopes to get “out of the shoot” a little earlier in the next admissions cycle.

“We are pleased with the progress this year, but we recognize this is a step along a long needed journey,” she said. “We are nowhere near representing a pluralistic state or nation.”

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