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


Anonymous Zenobia said...

Josh, I completely agree that a greater initiative must be taken in order to create a more cohesive community among students and faculty on this campus. However, although you feel that the administration needs to take an initiative in order to facilitate such an ideal, it is essentially in the hands of the students to make it imperative that such a community be created on our campus. Although I applaud your passion and idealism, your proposal to create such cohesion is an initiative that not only the faculty must follow but the students of our campus. It is imperative that student leaders such as yourself ingrain such principles into the mindsets of other students at the University of Illinois.

In my opinion, cohesion could be facilitated via the breakdown of barriers that tend to separate students into groups verses considering all of us as one community—the student body. For instance, take the example of self-segregation among students of different races, ethnicities, sexual preference, etc. Students, especially leaders of RSOs and the cultural houses, need to make a commitment to create a networking system among themselves rather than separating and grouping themselves into exclusive groups. This is not to say that the promotion of specific cultures should be terminated, but rather a support system should be created among all groups and sectors of the University of Illinois.

9:42 PM  
Blogger Josh Rohrscheib said...

I had the following exchange with President White regarding shared governance and my column. I usually dont post email exchanges but he gave me permission.

President White:

Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I'm pretty sure faculty members are also concerned that the University might be shifting away from the shared governance approach we've historically taken to decision making.

My broader concern is making more students feel a sense of pride and ownership in the university, and taking steps to make this feel like a smaller community, making it feel more like "home." I think the complaint some have that UIUC is too impersonal is pretty well founded, although everyone has the best intentions. There's only so much that can be done to accommodate larger and larger class sizes while the state is cutting our funding.

I’m very interested in getting students thinking about giving back now. As I said in my column, I think one of the most immediate steps we could take is creating a sense of class identity which would lead to annual giving campaigns like the class gifts in the law school.

I would love to hear your thoughts on what we can do to boost alumni giving rates and if there is anything students can do to help with development. I think we're an under-utilized tool and if you can think of any ways we can help with fundraising I'll do everything I can to mobilize students.

If you're interested in speaking with us at a Student Senate meeting sometime, we would love to have your company. We meet every Wedn at 7pm in the Pine Lounge of the Illini Union. Please consider this an open invitation to join us anytime you would like, if you give me advanced notice I'll make sure we block out time to interact with you.

Thanks again for all you're doing. I great have faith in you and Chancellor Herman.


-----Original Message-----
From: White, B. Joseph []
Sent: Sunday, March 12, 2006 11:56 PM
To: Rohrscheib, Joshua
Cc: 'Herman, Richard'
Subject: RE: DI Column

This is a good catch. I hadn't focused on it. Pretty strong statement. Chancellor Herman may have some observations. While it is true that we have to be very accountable, achieve excellent results, increase resources and make the best possible use of all our resources, I am confident that we can and will do so in a consultative and participatory fashion. The truth is that we need every member of the communityy's ideas, imvolvement and commitment more than ever. I am confident that Chancellor Herman and I are in agreement on these points since we discuss them often. If the statement means we're going to adopt the best of a culture like Google's or Apple's and integrate it with our academic culture, I'm all for it (these are great, high involvement organizations that just happen to be corporate). But there are a lot of corporate cultures we don't want to emulate in any fashion. Thanks again for your piece and for bringing it to my attention. You're welcome to share my reply with anyone. Best, Joe

-----Original Message-----

From: "Rohrscheib, Joshua"
Subj: DI Column
Date: Sun Mar 12, 2006 11:00 pm
Size: 5K
To: "'Herman, Richard'", "'White, B. Joseph'"

Dear President White and Chancellor Herman:

I wrote some of my thoughts on how we need to change our campus culture in my column for tomorrow. I raised many points of criticism that I believe are commonly felt by members of the Student Senate. We are working on a memo giving Chancellor Herman feedback on the current draft of the strategic plan. For me, the most troubling element I've seen so far was in the Student Affairs plan where it discussed shifting from a shared governance structure to more of a corporate structure. I stressed this in the column. I hope you can both find time to at least look over my column, and I would really appreciate hearing any of your thoughts that you would be willing to share with me.

While my column is critical of several aspects of the current Illinois experience, I have abundant faith that the two of you have the ability to bring important changes to our campus. I hope you'll find my perspective

Thanks for your time,

Josh Rohrscheib

1:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The issue goes beyond just a debate between a corporate or proprietary governance structure v. a shared governance structure, but making sure that shared governance is meaningful and not illusory. Increasingly matters that are supposed to be done through shared governance or are supposedly being done are in reality maneuvered through the shared governance system as a fait d'accompli with a pre-ordained conclusion already set. Faculty and Student Senates must not allow administration to set arbitrary time-lines or other mythic restrictions on input when the purpose is to stifle the opportunity for input.

11:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't discount the possibility of dissatisfied customers. Many students might simply feel the product they received was not adequate. I can tell you that's why I'm not giving back, at least.

11:22 AM  
Blogger Francisco said...

I know at least for my department (ECE), there have been a number of VERY successful alumni who have made it pretty big in the industry. The Founder and former Chairman (Jerry Sanders) of processor manufacturer AMD is a UIUC ECE alum, as is AMD's current President (Dirk Meyer). Everywhere you go in the computer industry, you'll find UIUC ECE alumni in very high-level executive positions. I don't think the "quality of the product" is the problem (again, at least not for my department). The University/departments just needs to reach out to these people and get them to donate to the institution they received their education from.

2:23 PM  
Blogger Billy Joe Mills said...


While I think you have a good aim and intention with this article, my sense is that it has little substance or backbone or FACTS, which I realize liberals disdain. If it had more facts to back up your thesis, and I'm not even sure what your thesis is, then it would be better. Your closing paragraph makes it sound like the main goal of the University should be trying to make itself a smaller place, but that is a mysterious and difficult task and it is not a very concrete goal.

The challenges facing us deal mostly with, "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."

You aptly mention these three key points, but then neglect to address them in any substantive or meaningful way.

Your argument against the corporate structure doesn't make sense since it addresses VC Riley and not the main thrust of White's Strategic Plan. Interim VCSA Riley's comment isn't that significant in the big picture.

The main problem deals with funding. While you raise good side arguments as to what is wrong with the University, they are merely distractions from the funding problem. Many of those other things, like class size, get corrected by increased funding. So, I feel that instead of concentrating on the data and facts behind the funding problem and suggesting that we need to become more like a private university, you tried to tackle every relatively minor problem that results from the lack of funding. In other words, you attacked the symptoms, rather than the root cause of the ailment.

2:19 AM  
Blogger Josh Rohrscheib said...

BJM - You missed the point on this one. The entire article is focused on the third of those points- increasing private donations.

My thesis is that students arent giving back because here we make them feel like a number, not a stake-holder.

All of the suggestions are about how to make the experience more personal and make the student feel more important to the university.

I do think I have concrete suggestions, I did try to cover too many types of changes in too little space, but for instance creating a sense of class identity to increase class gifts makes a lot of sense, you dont have to take my word for it, ask the Dean of the Biz school.

The shared governance discussion is clearly tied to this b/c it's about making student input meaningful and making the university more responsive to student needs.

I tried to focus on why I think our alums give back less frequently. I didn't go into the other 2 points, I thought my transition after stating the 3 points that we have a low giving rate, perhaps b/c it never felt like home set this up reasonably well. I guess I should have spelled it out for you a little more by saying, "here i will only be discussing what is holding us back w/ private giving," but most of the other people who've read it didn't seem to think that was necessary.

Your column was groaning from the weight of statistics and several paragraphs that were just lists of countries I had to stop halfway through and throw cold water on my face to keep going :-)

8:48 AM  
Blogger Billy Joe Mills said...

I realize that you liberals cringe at the sight of facts and data, it's OK. The reaction probably occurs because it is hard to bullshit your way around facts...which all relates to the superiority of fundamental fairness (practiced by greats such as Holmes, Frankfurter, Brandeis, and Cardozo) over fundamental rights jurisprudence (practiced imbeciles such as Brennan, Blackmun, and yourself)...hahahha

7:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

fransisco -

how ironic. I'm an alumnus of that department. Though it's the school from which I received my second degree to which I have dissatisfaction.

11:49 AM  

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