17 May 2015

The Bump in the Land-Grant Road

from the Daily Illini
Tomorrow the new president of the University of Illinois, Timothy Killeen, will take office.  I'll be syncing up my Facebook and Twitter accounts to live-tweet his first Town Hall on the Urbana-Champaign campus tomorrow afternoon. For once, I'll be trying not to be snarky--there's too much at stake.

The announcement of the meeting links to an online form for asking questions.  I've sent in three, and I'll be listening closely for answers tomorrow:

1.  What steps will UIUC take to lift AAUP censure, should it be imposed (as seems likely)?
2.  How will President Killeen and his leadership team restore confidence among the sixteen academic departments at UIUC that voted "no confidence" in Chancellor Wise and the U of Illinois leadership in the wake of the Salaita "un-hiring"?
3.  What should be the role of the liberal arts at the University of Illinois in the future?

Had L'Affaire Salaita not happened, chances are few people would come to this Town Hall in a spirit of genuine curiosity spiked with fear, least of all a minor academic functionary like me.  This transfer of leadership would happen, as so many do, in a cloud of meaningless bureaucratese.  The future of the liberal arts faculty would be--as it always has been--underfunded, beleaguered, tarnished, yet secure.  What is a university, after all, without its trivium?

Things have changed.  Boycotts?  Angry meetings? International scholarly outpourings of outrage?  Senate committee reports?  Votes of no confidence? It turns out to have been the theater of irrelevance.  It's not just that Salaita hasn't been hired--it's that the administration has not engaged substantively with the faculty concerns that administrative actions have provoked.  When Chancellor Wise called AAUP censure a "bump in the road," her rhetoric horrified liberal arts faculty.  But perhaps she was simply riding the wave that makes it so.

There is that administrative indifference, and there is declining state funding, and there is rhetoric about "the university of the future," which sounds like this:
Killeen is confident the UI has a strong future but said it has to ensure that it uses money wisely and provides a world-class education that students can afford.
"Clearly there has to be a real focused emphasis on what I call the three Es, — efficiency, effectiveness and excellence," he said. 
That may involve new structures, greater use of technology, sharing services where that makes sense, and "focusing on what you can be truly excellent at." 
Killeen plans to launch a new strategic plan for the university at the board's July meeting, building on plans already developed by the three campuses. 
"We want the University of Illinois to be the model for the land-grants for the 21st century," he said.
At an institution where "excellence" is often code for "able to attract grant funding and entrepreneurship," the humanities may have already been shut out of this conversation.  Does "a world-class education that students can afford" and "what you can be truly excellent at" include the liberal arts departments for which L'Affaire Salaita was a body blow?  That's the question I'll really be listening for the answer to.


  1. Considering the heritage of the University as a Land-Grant institution what is the core mission of the University of Illinois? Please identify the core constituency that it is intended to serve?

    1. The citizens of Illinois, of course! https://www.uillinois.edu/about/mission