Defeat for For-Profit Model

Illinois faculty push back -- and university agrees to make new online entity nonprofit, with programs run by academic departments.
January 12, 2007

The University of Illinois has been pushing for months to create a new campus dramatically different from the existing ones at Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield. The new campus would be entirely online, and staffed almost entirely by adjuncts who would not report to regular academic departments. The new entity -- the University of Illinois Global Campus -- would also be a private, for-profit business and would focus on high-demand fields.

That was the theory. And although some professors helped develop the plan, faculty leaders and many rank and file professors didn't like it at all. The senates at all three campuses opposed the plan and on Wednesday, the administration and faculty leaders announced that the new campus would be totally revamped.

On Wednesday evening, administrators and faculty leaders sent an e-mail to the campuses announcing that the effort would be renamed the Global Campus Partnership to reflect their agreement that every new online program would have a partnership with an existing academic department. And while the e-mail message did not say so explicitly, faculty and administrative leaders confirmed that the new entity would be nonprofit, would not seek its own accreditation, and would be under the academic control of the faculty. Courses will be designed and supervised by faculty members in existing academic departments.

Nationally, many professors worry about the increasing push to apply for-profit models to traditional higher education -- an approach that has been particularly appealing to administrators (with mixed results) in online education. In Illinois, that approach was shut down.

"The administration could have moved ahead with its own model, but it would have had no faculty support," said Terry Bodenhorn, a professor of history at the university's Springfield campus and chair of the University Senates Conference, which includes representatives from all of the Illinois campuses.

Bodenhorn was among a small group of professors that drafted an alternative structure for the new campus in the last month -- a model that university administrators agreed to this week.

"I want to give a lot of credit to President Joe White, who I think correctly saw that the goals and the mission of the Global Campus were more valuable to him than the specifics of how it was done, so he was willing to consider these alternative structures we were proposing. And these structures would still allow him to create the scale he was looking for," Bodenhorn said.

For professors, Bodenhorn said, the key issue was that the new online entity fit into "the academic model." He said that under the agreement reached with the administration, the "master teacher" approach will be used. Instead of having new online programs created by administrators alone in the Web division, existing academic departments will create programs, and each course will have a permanent, regular faculty member to design and plan it (and sometimes to teach it). While adjuncts may teach some sections, they will report to the faculty members who create the courses, Bodenhorn said.

Faculty leaders agreed that the university could have an "incubation system" to plan online offerings in areas where faculty members had not stepped forward. But even those offerings would have to be approved by a traditional academic department, which would then supervise, Bodenhorn said.

What is key, he added, is that the online effort "will be an academic unit, and not specifically a profit-seeking center."

Because all of the academic programs would be affiliated with existing academic programs, he added, there will not be an effort to get separate accreditation for the online program.

Bodenhorn, who has taught online, stressed that the faculty opposition to the original plan was based on concerns about governance and academic values, and not opposition to online education. He said that many professors who have been involved in the effort to kill the idea of a for-profit unit within the university system are in fact excited about the university offering more programs online.

Thomas P. Hardy, a spokesman for the Illinois system, confirmed that the online program would now be nonprofit, and that academic programs would remain connected to existing departments. Hardy said that administrators had wanted the structure they proposed originally because they wanted it to be "a little more nimble and to respond to the market more quickly than perhaps you would get through the traditional academic unit structure."

But he said that officials were committed to working with faculty members, and were pleased with the interest in online education. "The faculty unquestionably agreed with the concept here in terms of why to do it, and how it matches up with a big public university's mission," he said. "Where there was difference of opinion was on how to do it."


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