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UI officials promise transparency in budget cuts

BY ANNA LOTHSON | FEBRUARY 26, 2009 7:37 AM

Although budget cuts will not be completed until at least the end of the semester, UI Provost Wallace Loh said there is one certainty now: The university community will be included in the discussion, whether in private or public settings.

Recently, Loh has been meeting with faculty and staff in most of the 11 colleges at the UI to understand concerns of every department and further officials’ knowledge when it comes to decision making.

“Transparency does not necessarily mean things will be put to a vote,” he said. “It does mean that you listen and consult to see people’s opinions and put them into account.”

Last week, Loh met with the UI Faculty Senate in a closed session to discuss budget issues, which sparked a quick debate between some group members regarding whether the session should remain open.



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But Faculty Senate President Michael O’Hara said the purpose for closing the meeting from the general public was to have a more open discussion. Besides, he said, no formal decisions can be made in a closed session.

Still, UI journalism Professor and Faculty Senate member Judy Polumbaum — one of only two who questioned restricting the session — said keeping the session closed was “kind of silly and patronizing.”

The meeting included nothing new — it consisted of more budget talk — and closing it from the public made it appear more secretive than it actually was, Polumbaum said. Plus, it makes it look like the Senate is more powerful than it is, which often leads to increased rumors on campus, she said.

“The more you close things down, the more rumors start,” Polumbaum said.

But O’Hara said closing meetings can let people be more “frank” with their opinions, allowing for a freer flow of discussion.

O’Hara said private meetings are not held to hide what is being discussed, but rather to avoid people mistaking informal deliberation as final decisions.

Loh also said faculty were more likely to express their actual thoughts if they knew their opinions were expressed in a confidential setting.

“The issues themselves are not something that need to be in closed session,” he said. “It’s for the privacy and openness of the conversation of the people in the group.”

Loh said some options discussed last week — which he stressed were merely possibilities — were reducing faculty salaries, cutting UI capital construction projects, promoting early retirement, and reevaluating utility and facility management.

Regardless of the informal discussion, Loh said the administration will continue to be transparent with the numerous stages of its decision making.

“We plan for all contingencies, but no decisions have been made for the simple reason that we don’t know what the budget cuts will be,” Loh said. “These are only options on the table.”


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