University struggles with retention, 73 faculty resign in 2016


By Megan Jones, Staff writer

Just as students come and go each year, professors on the Champaign-Urbana campus have been doing the same, but at a higher rate than in the past.

Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson said faculty retention has been a big focus this year. The number of retention cases, when faculty members give notice that they may be leaving the University, worked on last year was up by 28 percent in comparison to a standing two-year average. This year, there are 137 retention cases in comparison to typically 100 cases.

“All of our deans and departments have been working hard to keep people situated at Illinois,” Wilson said. “But I think it’s been a challenge this past year and it is likely to be an increasing challenge going forward until we get some budget stability.”

Resignations are also up 66 percent over the last two years. There were 73 resignations by August 2016 in comparison to 45 resignations in August 2015. Interim Provost Ed Feser said the University lost the most professors from the humanities, arts and education departments and retained the most in the sciences. He said every area has suffered, though.

Kim Graber, Senate Executive Committee Vice-Chair and professor in the department of kinesiology, said the kinesiology department has seen a loss of 25 percent of faculty members.

“I think everyone is anxious about this and we continue to emphasize to the state, to legislators that this is a really critical issue,” Wilson said.

The lack of a state budget has led to another announcement of salary freezes, President Timothy Killeen announced in early August. This will be the second year in a row that the University is deferring its pay raise program.

The University and other state schools have operated for the last 13 months on a small portion of the state funding they typically receive.

Illuminating these numbers, the SEC spoke Monday about the American Indian Studies department, which currently has no full-time faculty members.

The department is currently under review after its director Robert Warrior and most of the faculty left to go to other universities or to join different departments at the Champaign-Urbana campus.

“Faculty and students are concerned with the damage of our ability to function, our ability to work in the aftermath of all these recent events — what I call a perfect storm of Salaita, the AAUP censure and budgetary problems,” Mark Steinberg, chair of the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure, said.

Steinberg said the American Indian Studies became the epicenter of these problems and was impacted the most. Steven Salaita’s withdrawn tenured position to the American Indian Studies program in 2014 raised concerns about academic freedom and free speech on campus.

Warrior left Illinois to join the University of Kansas as an endowed professor in English and American studies.

The department had a substantial number of faculty members and were moving forward before these events that have led to resignations, Steinberg said and it doesn’t happen very often that a department loses all its faculty members.

Adrian Burgos Jr., history professor, has been named as the interim director of the program and is leading a review to determine the department’s future. He started by meeting with faculty that have worked in the department and gathered all community stakeholders together for a retreat on Aug.18.

He said by the end of the day, he got five more people to help with the program, with some professors teaching at overload or other postdoctoral fellows agreeing to teach for the first time.

The department is currently offering two classes. According to the UI Enterprise system, 22 out of 36 active seats are filled in Introduction to American Indian Studies.

With a new U.S. minority culture general education course requirement coming in, Burgos said he believes students will be interested in taking these classes to fulfill requirements.

“We actually have a curriculum. This isn’t building up from ground zero,” he said. “What we need now is faculty.”

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