We at Campus Faculty Association are still studying Chancellor Wise and Provost Adesida’s announcements at the Town Hall meeting on Monday. We are pleased to see recognition of some of the pressing concerns we have been hearing in our face-to-face conversations all around campus, but we have reservations about some of the planned actions, and whether they will meet campus needs.
Our first take is that the plan to hire new faculty is a step in the right direction, but insufficient. The plan sounds dramatic (“hire 500 new faculty”), but the full announcement is much less satisfactory, and will achieve no more than replacing the faculty numbers lost in the past few years. Over the last five years, tenure track faculty numbers have fallen by about 10%, while student numbers have risen by about the same percentage. The Visioning Future Excellence plan aims to replace these lost faculty over roughly the next seven years, while also adding back those lost to normal attrition. This is how they reach the headline number of 500 hires, by including replacement faculty hires. By 2020, faculty numbers should be back where they were in 2007 – yet with thousands more students to teach than in that year.
While this is an important start, it is not enough to strengthen and preserve research and teaching excellence at our university. The surge in retirements and departures over the last few years was caused in large part by the threat of further damage to our retirement benefits, and by frozen and lagging salaries. We still face those threats, and our own central administration has announced that it supports a permanent 2% pay cut in the form of an increased employee contribution to SURS. The administration has also endorsed a reduction of the cost of living adjustment for future retirees. Until these major problems are solved, UIUC will face continued erosion of the tenure-stream faculty. A union with collective bargaining rights would help faculty to address pension issues at the campus and state levels, and would work with the University to preserve excellence over the long term.