UIS campus delegation transforms after fallout

_Editor’s note: This is the last in a three-part series regarding contentious discussions over proposed changes to the University’s enrollment management, after thousands of emails were obtained by The Daily Illini under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act._

During a time when top University administrators did not see eye to eye on some issues, an internal rift also began emerging between members of the University Senates Conference — the chief faculty advisory group to Hogan — culminating in the resignation of the body’s Springfield delegation.

Emails show that accusations were prevalent during a time when the senates conference was discussing the controversial enrollment management recommendations made by University President Michael Hogan, some of which aim to centralize the admissions and financial aid process.

“You have to be able to argue big issues, and we’ve been dealing with some of the biggest issues that there are in the last few years,” said Nicholas Burbules, University Senates Conference vice chair. “We don’t all agree on these issues. … But you need to have those discussions where I think the discussions are about the issue. It shouldn’t be about personalities.”

Concerns about how discussions were handled put in motion events that led to the Springfield contingent’s resignation from the conference’s task force on enrollment management. A University-initiated investigation of anonymous emails sent to the conference during this time showed that then-Springfield senate chair Tih-Fen Ting forwarded internal email threads to Lisa Troyer, Hogan’s chief of staff. Troyer and all three Springfield representatives resigned from their positions last month. And now, the University Senates Conference is looking to move forward.

*‘Toxic’ interactions*

Springfield faculty leaders were prepared to move forward with 20 of Hogan’s 21 recommendations, but representatives from Urbana and Chicago had different plans.

Springfield representative Carrie Switzer said in a mid-November resignation email to Carol Leff, chair of the task force, that the two nonvoting members — University Senates Conference chair Donald Chambers and Burbules — “conspired” to influence the meetings.

Burbules replied, saying he was stunned by the tone and the substance of Switzer’s email: “You were part of the discussion, were explicitly asked your views on everything we were saying and had every opportunity to object. You agreed to the text of the letter when you were directly asked. Then, after going back to your colleagues — people who were not in the meeting and have no idea of what transpired — and developing a ridiculous conspiracy theory about what happened.”

In a conversation with the other two Springfield representatives, Ting called Burbules’ response “laughable.” Springfield representative John Martin added in the thread, “These clowns really have no clue about who we are as individuals or as a campus.”

Michael Biehl, member of the conference’s task force and chair of the Urbana task force, defended Switzer, saying Burbles made several inaccurate points in his response email.

“If WE (and I say we as I was just as much at fault) had been doing our jobs and treating her respectfully as a colleague, knowing the [Springfield] position, we would have actively solicited their rationale (not just ask ‘do you approve’) so as to have a larger and more balanced perspective on the issue,” Biehl said in an email to Burbules.

Burbules said Monday that some of these conversations got embroiled in personal feuds, adding that he accepts his share of responsibility.

“That was a low point for the senates conference … it really shows how toxic the interactions had become, particularly between some individuals,” he said.

Ting and Switzer did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

*A consensus view*

Biehl emailed a memo in early December to a member of the Urbana-Champaign Senate, reiterating why he wanted a unified response to Hogan. Hogan forwarded this email to Board of Trustees chairman Christopher Kennedy and said he received it anonymously.

Biehl said if a separate argument was presented for each campus, Hogan would continue thinking the University was divided.

“If we present our report in a similar format and conclusions as a joint, UNITED UIUC/UIC view (UIS is a wild card), the president will be compelled to listen and collaborate,” Biehl said. “If he still chooses not to at that point, I don’t think we can hold back any longer those that want to escalate this into a full confrontation with him.”

While promoting a consensus view, Biehl received emails questioning the similarity between the Urbana review report and the conference’s report. However, Biehl has said the Urbana review report was used as a template because of time constraints and the Chicago contingent agreed “line by line.”

Shortly after, Burbules wrote to Biehl, Chambers and Leff, saying he appreciated the efforts to show the unified front he desired. But he said the attainable goal was to produce a report that only a majority of the conference would support.

“By suggesting that the aim of the process is to produce consensus, we have given leverage to those who want to argue that anything short of full unanimity is a failure. This disproportionately empowers a minority who, in my opinion, have never participated in the process in good faith,” Burbules said in a Dec. 13 email.

About two weeks later, the conference met to discuss the report and take a vote after weeks of conversation. The group passed their enrollment management review report by a 13-2 vote.

“It was the conference at its best. Every voice was heard. Every disagreement was talked through seriously and thoughtfully and voted on,” Burbules said. “On that day, in that meeting, on a very, very important issue, the conference did come together.”

*Breakdown of trust*

Almost a week later, Springfield representatives expressed concerns about lack of trust within the conference and criticized the approved report.

“The fact that the USC report is just like the Urbana campus report is a joke,” Ting said in an email to her Springfield colleagues. “I will not be surprised that President Hogan finds U of I a hostile place to work and leave in the near future. … When that day comes, it’s the end of U of I and certainly the end for Springfield because there’s never a board or president who cares or treats all three campuses as equal.”

After news broke about the anonymous emails, Martin questioned if another member of the conference had leaked them. The University did not make the anonymous emails investigation public until the Chicago Tribune first reported them in early January.

“It makes me wonder why the Tribune immediately gets what it asks for as far as internal email communications but the UIS (Springfield) Senate has to submit a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act request),” Martin said in an email to Ting and Switzer.

In November, Martin requested audio tapes of the conference’s October meeting, which was open to the public. But this led to a breakdown of trust between members of the faculty group, to the extent that some members suggested not to tape the meetings or to delete the tapes.

Emails show that the members called Martin’s request a “sad turn of events” that reflected a “lack of trust” from the Springfield contingent.

Martin said in an email to The Daily Illini in January that the faculty group would not grant the Springfield senate access to that tape. He added that he was regrettably forced to compel the conference’s Executive Committee to adhere to the law by filing a formal request.

*A new beginning*

After the resignations of all three Springfield representatives, the group welcomed newly elected members at its meeting Tuesday.

Before that meeting, Burbules spoke with the new representatives, along with Chambers, to “welcome them (and) to give them a chance to air their concerns about the conference and the University.”

“They are not only welcome as individuals, but they are welcome to share their views,” Burbules added. “We want to create a much better and healthier dynamic with them than existed with their three predecessors.”

Springfield representative Lynn Fisher, who called for Ting’s resignation, said the meeting helped move the group forward in a positive way. Fisher previously served on the conference from 2006 to 2009.

Chambers said there has never been any “anti-Springfield” spirit in the senates conference.

“The conference welcomed delegates from Springfield with open arms,” he said Thursday. “If one didn’t know about what happened, they probably wouldn’t have known at all.”