Thursday, March 16, 2006

Resignation Letter

I've recieved multiple questions about whether or not I intend to resign following the Illini Media Company's decision to fire Acton Gorton. Yesterday afternoon I submitted the resignation letter below to the Managing Editors and Opinions Editor. They have very graciously allowed me to write a farewell column discussing the strategic plan for our campus. Here's the letter:

March 15, 2006

Dear Jason, Shira, and Jenette:

I'm writing to resign my position as a guest columnist for the Daily Illini. I appreciate the opportunity I was given to advance campus issues of great concern to our student body. I have tremendous respect for the journalists who make up the family that is the Daily Illini, and I hope that in the future we will continue to have the lighthearted, engaging working relationship that I've come to enjoy.

While many people whom I respect a great deal disagree with me on this point, I believe the public reasons for Acton's termination are little more than a pretense. Additionally, Mary Cory's letter to the Daily Illini's alumni was an irresponsible act that further entrenched parties on both sides by forcing Acton to seek legal advice; she blew what could have been a powerful education moment for all involved.

There has been much talk that the Daily Illini had the right to run the cartoons, but the responsibility not to do so. This statement lacks an appropriate appreciation for the special role played by college newspapers. College papers have a duty to cover controversial and even offensive ideas so they can be scrutinized by academic communities. In the past the Daily Illini has been widely praised for its commitment to fulfilling this duty, I hope it will not shrink from its proud tradition in the years ahead.

If it could be arranged, I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to write one final farewell column the Monday after Spring Break. This affords you two weeks notice to make any necessary changes to the page and it would give me the chance to thank my readers and give parting words to students interested in shaping university policy. If allowed to write this column, I intend to evaluate the most current version of the strategic plan from a student perspective.

Although I feel it is necessary to resign as a guest columnist, in the future I will remain accessible if I can be of any help to any members of the Daily Illini, and it is likely that from time to time I will submit letters to the editor.

I treasure both the friendships I formed with members of the Daily Illini and the experience I gained as a columnist. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to your readers.


Josh Rohrscheib

Monday, March 13, 2006

Saving Illinois

Our University is approaching a turning-point. Future historians will mark the years ahead as the time the tide began to turn. We still have the power to determine the direction, but the price of that power is a rising burden, a duty of candor to take a hard look at ourselves and address our own failings as a University and a community.

We cannot deny the hard truth that public universities are in very real trouble. State legislatures nationwide are failing to fund higher education. We must become self-reliant. The three ways of filling the gap in funding are raising tuition, increasing out-of-state student enrollment, and substantially bolstering private donations. To have any hope of improving or even maintaining quality, we must do all three.

Illinois has the lowest annual alumni giving rate in the Big Ten, perhaps because for so many, Champaign-Urbana never felt like home.

To save Illinois we must evolve from a giant campus, almost a small metropolis, to a close-knit community. We must make the big feel small. This requires making the impersonal more personal.

Upper level administrators and faculty leaders must set the example for student engagement by getting out from behind their desks and have more face-to-face interaction with students.

One of the most important and often frustrating meetings for new students is their initial consultation with an academic advisor. The need to improve advising is widely recognized, but we are deluding ourselves if we deny the need to immediately hire more advisors. You can not have a personal relationship with an advisor if they are responsible for over 500 students.

University housing must become more responsive to students. Instead of providing a thoughtful and caring environment that allows students to grow and thrive on their own terms, housing staff dictates the terms for growth. An area coordinator once told me "we understand the needs of all our residents." This is a terrifying assertion. When you think you see the whole picture, you stop looking.

Compartmentalization is also harmful. Pitting departments against each other for funding leads to the "that's not my job" mentality. Far too often students seeking help are sent office to office, and once a student is out the door, it's someone else's problem. No one responsible takes responsibility, and everyone else is blamed.

Everyone has their own fiefdom. Innovations of others aren't celebrated, and individual successes aren't shared. Regarding fundraising, academic units are fighting over donors instead of developing strategies to maximize the total contribution to the campus. The result: small public wins dwarfed by immeasurable silent losses.

Other universities create a sense of class identity. Here classes get together only for convocation and graduation, nothing in between. Class events build pride in the campus by bringing students together to celebrate their common experience and their collective potential. This leads to increased annual giving, class gifts and more substantial contributions in the future.

College should be the place for students to shape their values and find their voices. This begins in the classroom, which is why we must take immediate steps to reduce class sizes. How can you be expected to find your voice in an 800 person lecture? It's hard enough to find a seat.

Perhaps the most troubling change on the horizon is the shift in University policymaking from shared governance to a more corporate structure. Nothing could be more dangerous or wrongheaded. Our mission is creating knowledge, not generating profit. Shared governance is the principle that decisions that substantially affect the community should be made by the community. If we are all stake-holders, we all have a greater fidelity to the institution, the community, and ultimately, to one another.

Eliminating inefficiencies should not be confused with cutting services, or taking more power from faculty and students and giving it to administrators. We need students to feel like stake-holders, not mere consumers.

This is a time for bold leadership. There is an inherent tension between collaborative dialogue and decisive action. We must play in both arenas at the same time to dramatically change our campus culture from a faceless metropolis to an engaged community. We should start today.

Published in the Daily Illini on March 13, 2006

Monday, March 06, 2006

Please vote 'yes'

This Tuesday and Wednesday, you will be asked to vote on three separate referenda questions. These ask if you support two scholarship programs, and if you believe the University should increase its commitment to minority recruitment. I strongly urge you to vote 'yes' in response to all three questions.

The first question involves the creation of the Legacy of Service and Learning Scholarship. This scholarship would be a new and enduring source of both need- and merit-based financial aid created by a refundable fifteen dollar fee. Five dollars goes toward the immediate creation of new scholarships and ten goes into an endowment, and the interest from the endowment will create a permanent source of scholarships.

The Legacy of Service and Learning Scholarship will create a new surge of community service on campus. Every student awarded these scholarship dollars will be required to do fifty hours of community service to have their scholarship renewed. This requirement is based on the principle that by funding the scholarship, the community is making an investment in students, and these students will be expected to give back to the community.

Some have argued that fifty hours is too low of a requirement, but consider the following: 1) Students required to engage in service tend to enjoy it so much they continue giving back to their community beyond the required amount; 2) the program will increase service on campus; and 3) you can make a difference in fifty hours.

If this passes, next year there will be at least an additional $405,000 in scholarship funds available, and this amount will steadily increase. In twenty years, Student Affairs has projected the endowment will approach fifteen million dollars and over a million dollars in scholarships will be awarded each year. These amounts could dramatically increase if we succeed in getting alumni to donate to the program, and this is the kind of program alumni will be eager to

The program allows students to proactively solve problems facing our University instead of futilely asking the state to solve these problems for us.

The second proposal is the Students for Equal Access to Learning fee. This refundable fee is only six dollars. This organization was created to provide need-based financial aid in 1970, and students have continually voted to renew the program.

This is an extraordinary value because the state provides matching funds that double the amount of scholarship funds available. These are state funds we would not have access to without the Students for Equal Access to Learning fee.

The final question concerns minority enrollment. In the last few years, freshman enrollment has increased dramatically, but the number of minority students has remained stagnant or in some cases even decreased. For example, since 1996 the total number of freshmen enrolled has risen from 5,946 to 7,584, while the number of African Americans enrolled decreased from 521 to 499.

This proposal does not advocate the creation of quota systems or any changes in the way the Office of Admissions reviews applicants. Instead, a 'yes' response acknowledges the need for the University to more actively recruit underrepresented students to increase the strength of our applicant pool. Without a renewed commitment to minority recruitment we will lose out on both the intellectual quality of these students and the diversity of background that they could
offer this campus.

Answering 'yes' to these three questions will increase both the level of community service on our campus and the diversity of perspectives in our classrooms. While we can't guarantee success we do have an obligation to guarantee that others have an opportunity to succeed. We can fulfill our promise to future students through the power of pooling our resources.

It is a fundamental principle of our society that the cost of progress is often sacrifice. By making the modest sacrifice of endorsing these three proposals you can contribute to lasting progress on our campus. Please vote 'yes.'

Josh Rohrscheib is a third year law student, a guest columnist and the President of the Illinois Student Senate. He would like to thank Student Affairs, Vice-Provost Ruth Watkins and Financial Aid Director Dan Mann for their help with developing the Legacy of Service and Learning Scholarship proposal. He can be reached at

Published in the Daily Illini on March 6, 2006