Fresh start needed after tough year

“Things can go wrong, and they did go wrong.”

That’s what former University President B. Joseph White said during an interview with The Daily Illini Editorial Board one year ago regarding allegations that the University was unfairly admitting students who did not have the grades to be here.

And while we have surely moved on since that point — White resigned last September, and we’ve seen a lot of new blood fill the University’s top spots and Board of Trustees — that’s not to say that the year has been completely without other issues that “did go wrong.”

Graduate student protests. Furlough days for University staffers. Professor buyouts. A 9.5 percent tuition increase for incoming students.

Not to mention the state still owes us $333 million in funding, as of June 2010.

Needless to say, it’s been a rough year for the U of I. Perhaps that’s why we fell eight places in U.S. News and World Report’s Best Colleges rankings for 2011, from 39 to 47.

But although the 2009-2010 academic year looked bleak, we can’t forget about how far we’ve come as a University since The Daily Illini sat down with our former president last August.

After all, we have a new president: Michael Hogan, who formerly headed the University of Connecticut, took the reigns in July.

The members of our mostly new Board of Trustees, now headed by Chairman Christopher Kennedy, have had almost a year to get used to their positions as leaders of our University. And if their concerns over faculty pay and staffing at recent board meetings are any indication, they at least seem to have an idea of some of our biggest problem areas, even if they haven’t figured out how to solve them quite yet.

Last January, the University launched Stewarding Excellence @ Illinois, an initiative that has been on top of its goal of releasing reports about how to best fix or maintain some of our colleges’ budgetary and technical issues.

Besides, our state-owed debt seems smaller, at least in comparison to this past March when it hit $487 million.

But we still have a long way to go.

Almost a year out, we don’t have a permanent chancellor; that job is still being filled in the interim by Robert Easter. Nor do we have a permanent provost — a position that was first vacated in May 2009 and which has also been taken care of by Easter ever since.

Professors have still been forced to take buyouts, and the University is ranked second-to-last among its peers in terms of salary competitiveness, according to the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

Don’t discount the work the University has already done. We have been working our way up and are on the right track. But this next academic year will be one of our most important ever.

The University is still a top-notch institution. We just have to prove it again.