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Loh: Students the priority

BY MORGAN OLSEN | FEBRUARY 11, 2010 7:30 AM

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UI officials are trying to remedy the problem of increased enrollment coupled with fewer faculty members predicted for next year, Provost Wallace Loh told the UI Staff Council on Wednesday.

Six task forces charged with investigating budget cuts around campus will release reports on their findings next week, he said.

“Rule No. 1: no harm to students,” Loh said. “There will still be plenty of courses, and we will not delay students’ graduation; that cannot happen.”

The UI created the strategic-initiative task forces — charged with assessing the budget and planning — in April 2009. Officials originally expected the results to be released this week.

Loh briefly addressed concerns surrounding the preliminary results of the Graduate Program Task Force, which administrators released to departments in January.

“It’s easy to understand the panic, but it’s not sustainable,” he said. “You can’t have 105 graduate programs at the UI and expect all of them to be outstanding.”

Despite the final results’ delay, he outlined several potential solutions to the problems the UI faces.

The university could examine installing several high-tech classrooms, which could be used for teaching such courses as foreign languages and low-level math, he said. The classrooms would use sophisticated technology to teach students through software, reducing the number of faculty and TAs necessary for a class.

The classrooms would have been funded by federal stimulus money. But after large-scale budget cuts were announced last fall, the UI used the federal funds to buffer the effect of the reductions, Loh said.

Resource efficiency is also a method to make up for lost funds, he said.

“We have gotten away with incredible inefficiencies,” Loh said. “We have classes with fewer than 10 students; we have at least 60 to 70 faculty members who teach fewer than 20 students a year.”

Council members continued to ask questions, even after their 30 minutes with Loh were up.

“It’s thrilling that he comes on a regular basis,” said UI Staff Council member Heather Schnoebelen. “He keeps us up to date on important issues that affect everyone.”

In a discussion last week between Loh and the UI Faculty Senate, some expressed anxiety over the task forces’ preliminary findings.

“I think you need to slow down the process,” philosophy Professor Richard Fumerton told the provost at that meeting. “It’s better that we get this right.”


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