Phyllis Wise: University of Illinois committed to quality education

_Editor’s Note: On Thursday, Aug. 23, the Daily Illini Editorial Board sat with Chancellor Phyllis Wise to discuss issues on campus. This is a portion of the transcript from that meeting._

DI: What would you like to do differently this year in comparison to last year and what do you plan to keep the same?

Phyllis Wise: We were very fortunate this last year to be able to recruit a new provost, which was announced probably after you left for summer break: Dean (Ilesanmi) Adesida …. We also hired a new vice chancellor for research, who just arrived from Penn State. So I have basically a new team to work with. … So now that I have a new team, it’s a matter of getting us all onto one page and really going forward. I feel that this year … is a very distinctive year in the past ten-year history of the University because it’s really the first time that we have permanent people, people without the interim title in front of their title, in about four or five years.

DI: Now that President (Bob) Easter is now settled into his role at the University, how has the administration changed to avoid the same tensions we experienced not more than a year ago?

Wise: I have the greatest respect for him. He understands and knows this campus very well. He has been spending the first several months of his tenure getting to know Chicago and Springfield, so that he’ll really know the whole University of Illinois. But his sense of shared governance, in this case, between the president and the chancellors is invaluable.

DI: What are actions you can take regarding this campus … in order to offset the compromises that the University has to make in light of the state’s deficit?

Wise: We’ve taken three tactics. One is to increase our efficiencies. We have fewer staff working on issues now than we had before and these issues are just as complex, so we’re figuring out ways to do this using technology. There’s certain things we’ve decided we just can’t do. Hopefully not the things that touch the lives of the students, but some of the paperwork that we used to do, we just can’t do any longer. The second area is that we have redoubled our efforts in the area of philanthropy. I’m spending a lot more time getting to know alums and friends of the University and corporations that might be interested in investing in the University. The third thing is tuition. Tuition has risen fairly dramatically over the last ten years, and we’re really trying to hold that and not be increasing anywhere near the rate that we did before. So the philanthropy, actually, the (Access Illinois) campaign that’s going on right now is the $100 million goal that we’ve set ourselves specifically for student scholarships. … These are all going to Illinois students, all going to undergraduate students, and it’s all based upon needs because we assume that any student that can get in here is meritorious.

DI: What are your plans to increase the quality of the campus for students academically and otherwise?

Wise: We’re looking very carefully at online learning as a complement to the in-classroom learning, so that students can take courses that they might not be able to get into the classroom because of their own schedules or because of other things. … To me, the complement of online and in-classroom learning is one of the biggest innovations in learning techniques and methodologies over the last five years, and I think it’s taking a bigger and bigger role. The pedagogy shows that the hybrid way of teaching, that is, you teach some of the course in the classroom and then you supplement it with work that’s done online, is probably the best for retention. Some faculty is, what we call, flipping the classroom, that is to say, you get your lecture work online and you use the classroom as a place where you can ask questions and go into more depth and more breadth in an area.

DI: If it keeps going in this direction, are we going to lose part of what our core educational mission is?

Wise: For a university like Illinois, I’m not worried about that because part of the excellent experience you have by getting a degree from here is being able to be here and have that serendipitous conversation with a faculty member that you run into in the hall or you go into his office or her office for their office hours, … that you cannot have when you’re just online. I think there are a lot of students (that), just for whatever reasons, cannot get to campus. They have a job, they have a family, but they want an Illinois education. And for those we want to make sure they too have access to what you have access to, being on campus. I think what we are doing is we are meeting the needs of a larger number of students. It’s all about access. But I don’t feel any threat to not being able to fill the classrooms and not being able to fill the residence halls with really great students because our niche is still educating the student that comes out of high school and within the first couple years wants to go to college.

DI: At what point does the tuition for in-state students become too high?

Wise: If the state was continuing to support us the way it did 20 years ago, I’d do anything to bring tuition back down to where it was 20 years ago. We, in general, if you look at national statistics, the cost of education has not increased very much at all in the last 20 years, corrected for inflation. What has changed is who’s paying for it. 20 years ago, most state universities, the cost of the education was 80 percent on the state, 20 percent on students. And now it’s about 70 percent on students, 30 percent on the state. … What I won’t let go of is the quality of education that we offer you. I will not cheapen the quality of education that you’re getting.