Trustees vote to shutter flight college

_This article originally ran in the July 22, 2011, edition of The Daily Illini._

The University Board of Trustees voted 6-2 to pass a resolution closing the Institute of Aviation. The three student trustees, who each receive an advisory vote, all voted to keep the Institute open.

Interim Chancellor Robert Easter said after the meeting that he supports a plan to transfer the Institute to a different college, and the University has already had conversations with community colleges, like Champaign’s Parkland College, about making the switch.

“Ideally, the Institute will be able to continue to have some form of flight training available to students, although maybe through a very different program,” he said.

Under the proposal, the Institute will be kept open until the end of the 2013-14 academic year. Easter said the University is committed to letting students currently in the Institute of Aviation receive their degrees.

Student trustee Hannah Ehrenberg said she wanted to keep the Institution open for at least a little longer.

“I think the Institute should have had more time to figure out if they could transition to other units on campus (or) find the funding to keep it going,” she said. “Just explore other options … Not all options were exhausted, and I would prefer all options be exhausted before we make a big step like this.”

Ehrenberg said University students will be upset about the closure, but that they will not be surprised.

“The reality that we are in a difficult financial time as a university, and difficult decisions like this are going to be common,” she said. “I, just like everyone else, didn’t want to see the Institute close, but we can’t have programs running if they’re losing money, which is why I wish that they had more time to see if they could have improved or made gains.”

Trustees heard from University administrators and the flight program’s supporters immediately prior to Thursday’s vote.

Several people spoke in favor of the Institute of Aviation during the public input session.

Dana Dann-Messier, president of the Institute of Aviation alumni board, said the University should keep its aviation program open because major pillars at the University of Illinois, including alumni and the student senate, want to keep the Institute open.

Dann-Messier also said college-trained aviators from a multidisciplinary program are more reliable and successful.

“You must keep the Institute of Aviation open to consider its legacy of superior aviation education,” he said.

Tom Emanuel, interim director of the Institute, said he supported the Stewarding Excellence recommendation that the Institute merge with another college, given its small size. Emanuel also said the administration had capped the number of students the Institute was allowed to admit, and it is now using lowered admission rates as a reason for closure.

Allan Englehardt, chairman of the board of Chicago Executive Airport, also voiced his support for the Institute.

He said the aviation industry is cyclical and right now, pilots are in high demand because few pilots have been retiring after the FAA’s decision to raise the mandatory retirement age for pilots from 60 to 65 in 2007.

“At this time of change, no university should be closing an aviation program,” he said. “Instead, a university should be expanding and upgrading its programs.”

Earlier in the meeting, Easter presented his reasoning for wanting to close the Institute of Aviation. He said the Institute is the smallest college in the University with the largest cost to graduate a student, and it is not financially viable for the University.

Easter also said that the application rate for the Institute dropped 63 percent between 2002 and 2010 and the acceptance rate decreased 52 percent in the same period. Thirty-four freshmen enrolled in the Institute in 2010.