Stewarding Excellence

This web page has been created by Dean John Unsworth to keep GSLIS students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends informed about the University's response to current financial challenges and how related decisions impact GSLIS. Please refer to the initial GSLIS news release for comments from site visitors.

Chancellor Easter: Autonomy of GSLIS No Longer in Question, 12/6/10
Inside Illinois: Stewarding Excellence @ Illinois: More 'next steps' released . . . , 12/2/10
Daily Illini: Report says consolidating schools not in best interest of colleges, University, 12/1/10
Library Journal: University of Illinois Library School Resists Pressure To Merge, 11/29/10
News-Gazette: Merger would hurt reputation, 11/26/10
News-Gazette: Small units avoid forced merger, 11/20,10
Dean Unsworth's Response: AUR Next Steps, 11/12/10
AUR Combined Unit Response, 7/10
Stewarding Excellence Report Now Available, 6/17/10
Deans' Response to Efficiency Assessment, 4/28/10
GSLIS Response to AUR Committee, 4/11/10
Academic Unit Reviews (AUR), 3/10/10
Dean Unsworth's Response to News-Gazette Article, 2/22/10

Chancellor Easter: Autonomy of GSLIS No Longer in Question, 12/6/10

On November 29, the Chancellor and his staff visited GSLIS for their annual review of the School. In attendance were GSLIS senior staff and faculty representatives to the GSLIS Executive Committee.

During this meeting, Dean Unsworth presented a comprehensive look at the School’s past, present, and future, which included historical milestones, measures of efficiency and productivity, and a discussion of the value of GSLIS’s ranking and the strength of its competition.

Stewarding Excellence also was discussed, focusing on campus administration’s Next Steps Letter issued in response to the Project Report of the Academic Unit Reviews Committee charged with "exploring the possibility of structural or organizational changes" concerning four academic units: GSLIS, Labor and Employment Relations (LER), Social Work, and Media.

In response to Dean Unsworth’s presentation, Chancellor Easter said that the autonomy of the School is no longer in question, and that a merger or consolidation of GSLIS with other academic units is no longer being considered by this administration. He also noted that considerable challenges and uncertainty lie ahead. Because state budget problems are not expected to improve soon, GSLIS will continue to pursue cost-saving measures and find ways to generate new revenue. As part of this process, GSLIS will explore shared services with other campus units, a strategy recommended in the Next Steps Letter.

"We are assured that the campus recognizes the accomplishments of GSLIS, its value to campus, and its leadership position in the field, and we are ready to do our part in dealing with declining state funding. We also believe that, if we have sensible and inclusive discussions, we can help others without degrading the quality of service we provide to GSLIS faculty, staff, and students. GSLIS has excellent people and well-run groups in all areas that might be discussed, and that puts us in a position to provide services to others, if a market can be created that makes providing that service sustainable," said Dean Unsworth.

He continued, "We mean to contribute to the future of Illinois, just as we’ve contributed in substantial ways to its past 113 years. GSLIS is in the University of Illinois’s DNA, at this point: it is one of four colleges that has existed in its original organizational form since the nineteenth century, and it was the second professional school to be established on this campus, after Law. It was the presence of a library education program that allowed Illinois to build its great library, by having access to a steady supply of great librarians. In the twenty-first century, when our greatest challenges are at the intersection of people, information, and technology, we can provide a similar benefit to the campus as a whole."

Inside Illinois Article - December 2, 2010

The U of I's newspaper for faculty and staff reviews "the actions that will be taken in response to three Stewarding Excellence project teams’ reports," which includes GSLIS as part of the Academic Unit Reviews:

In their response dated Nov. 12, Easter and Wheeler agreed with the project team that it is best when mergers and consolidations of academic disciplines originate with the units themselves. Accordingly, Easter and Wheeler wrote that they would not be proposing any academic reorganizations as a result of the Stewarding Excellence review.

(Read the article)

Daily Illini Article - December 1, 2010

Dean Unsworth responds to questions about Academic Unit Reviews and the recommendations made in the Stewarding Excellence Project Report (read the article).

Library Journal Article - November 29, 2010

Dean Unsworth addresses the issues related to mergers with other academic units in "University of Illinois Library School Resists Pressure To Merge" (read the article).

News-Gazette Article - November 26, 2010

News-Gazette coverage continues with "Merger would hurt reputation, library school faculty say" (read the online version).

News-Gazette Article - November 20, 2010

The News-Gazette addresses campus administrators' interpretation of the final report of the Academic Unit Reviews Project Team in "Small units avoid forced merger: Review team says a consolidation wouldn't produce notable savings" (read the online version).

Dean Unsworth's Response: Academic Unit Reviews Next Steps - November 12, 2010

The interim Chancellor and Provost and the interim Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs have issued their response to the Final Report of the Stewarding Excellence Project Team that reviewed the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, Labor and Employment Relations, Social Work, and Media (see the Stewarding Excellence Next Steps website). In that response, the idea of mergers or consolidations among any subset of these four units was taken off the table because of the "importance of faculty consultation and ... input into the analysis of whether to join academic disciplines." Later in the same document, though, it seems to be put back on the table when the response argues that the Project Team's report "expressly recognized ... that there may be mergers or consolidations that could offer cost savings, significant intellectual synergies, and financial flexibility." I assume that this refers to the following passage on page 18 of that report:

"Let us be clear: We are not saying that there is no conceivable realignment of these units that might not generate significant intellectual synergies, cost savings, and financial flexibility. But the evidence we have reviewed suggest that any cost savings would be far outweighed by academic and financial risks."

It is therefore a bit of a surprise that the administration's response to the Project Team's report "strongly encourage[s] the independent graduate-student focused schools (SLER, SSW, and GSLIS) to investigate mergers or consolidations with other academic units as a long-term plan to sustain and protect their programs." If, according to the report, the evidence suggests that any cost savings from mergers would be "far outweighed by academic and financial risks," it is hard to see what mergers would sustain and protect.

The administration's response ends with another reference to the Project Team's report, quoting from page 19, as follows:

"The question of consolidating, merging and reconfiguring academic units is a critical one for all public universities facing significant changes in their state funding. The central issue is not whether such changes are likely to occur, but how they will occur."

However, the administration's response does not reflect the context in which that statement occurs. In the report's next paragraph, this general observation that universities are under pressure to save money "through program reduction and organizational realignments" is put into a more strategic perspective, as the Project Team exhorts the campus to take steps to realign in response to "evolving demands for integrative research and problem solving in an increasingly complex and global world," to re-examine its incentive structures and its budget models, to create "less hierarchical and more lateral organization of academic units," and above all, to address these questions strategically. The final sentence of the Project Team's report says "at present we critically need a university-wide, systematic, and unified way of addressing these matters."

Evidence that this advice has not yet been heard can be found in the implementation plan's mandate for a discussion of shared services among four small units. In discussing this recommendation with the administration, prior to the release of their final response today, the deans of the units under review expressed support for the idea of shared services and noted that we already have shared service arrangements and discussions underway, and that those are not limited to this group of four units, but include Media, LAS, Engineering, and other units. Individually and collectively, we strongly encouraged the administration to open a broader campus discussion of shared services, using a marketplace approach in which the administration's role would be to help those units with needs find and purchase services from those units with capacity, and to provide incentives to encourage the broadest collaboration and the greatest economies of scale. Instead, the prevailing notion of shared services seems to be that this is something that happens within colleges, unless the colleges are too small, in which case the small ones need to be lumped together. As recent reports from peer institutions like the University of Michigan make clear, the benefits of shared services, both in terms of economy and expertise, are best realized on a large scale. We'll be happy to discuss shared services as directed, but I will also continue to press for a broadening of that discussion, and I expect all of the deans will continue to prioritize the quality of the services and programs that we provide to our students and our faculty.

The bottom line is that graduate-only or graduate-mostly units need to become less dependent on General Revenue Funds, and we understand that. That's why, in GSLIS, we have been trying to launch an undergraduate major. In Social Work, where there is a new Bachelor's program, their budget projections show them generating 90% of their base budget from tuition in the near future. If, on the other hand, we simply merge these units into other, larger units, without changing the nature of their enrollments, we won't have changed the bottom line at all--we will just be hiding the problem. Likewise with shared services, if we continue to think of this as a narrow college-based activity, we may congratulate ourselves on saving a few hundred thousand dollars here and there, but we will likely miss the opportunity for much larger savings. This is a time when we need to do as the Project Team enjoined us to do, and "tie financial decisions to strategic planning. The University of Illinois as a whole needs to decide what things it does well and where it needs to grow, as well as what things it should consider no longer doing. This issue needs to start with a look at the mission of the University and at a wide range of units and activities." It is my firm belief that this kind of holistic and strategic consideration of what are, after all, university-wide budget problems would recognize that professional schools are a key strategic resource on this campus, often overlooked and undervalued, and that they are also central to the mission of a 21st-century land-grant university. We have not had that conversation so far: I hope we may yet do so.

Academic Unit Reviews Combined Unit Response - July 2010

GSLIS, Labor and Employment Relations, Media, and Social Work have prepared and submitted a combined unit response to the Academic Unit Reviews Project Report. The response can be viewed on the Stewarding Excellence website; excerpts are listed below.

Introduction and Combined Unit Response

The Review Committee chose to operate from a risk/benefit framework. As the units under review, we agree that the chosen framework was appropriate to the task (p. 2).

The Review Committee called for improvements in the use of central data to assess the efficiency of academic units and reached the following overall conclusion:

In the end, we did not find empirical evidence that confirmed the intuition that there would be significant administrative efficiencies from consolidation or merger among these four units. To be more accurate and following our methodology, we did not find evidence that the rewards from consolidation among the four units or some subset of them would clearly exceed the risks.

Looking ahead, we recognize that the University faces many challenges. Even though we welcome and endorse the finding that supports the continued independent standing of the four units under review, we also are committed to ensuring that Stewarding Excellence and parallel change efforts within academic units do find those areas where there are efficiencies and improvements to be obtained. Further, we are committed to fostering revenue generating initiatives that would make these and other units less dependent on state funds (p. 2).

GSLIS Response to the Academic Unit Reviews Committee Report

While we understand that the University faces some hard choices, we believe that those choices should be based on criteria that relate to the university’s strategic goals and that these criteria need to be established in advance of a crisis rather than in the middle of it. If units are given “valid context-appropriate [and] cross-campus metrics” against which their performance will be measured, and if those metrics reflect an incentive structure that is strategically motivated, then units will either find a way to meet their goals or they will be found wanting, but campus leadership and unit heads would not be in the position of establishing and responding to goals and metrics after the fact, and a review committee would not be in the position of adjudicating arguments about the meaning and importance of institutional data.   

For its part, the Graduate School of Library and Information Science understands the need to become less dependent on General Revenue Funds, and we believe (as the report also notes, and as former Provost Katehi understood) that establishing an undergraduate informatics major is a necessary step toward achieving that goal. With that in mind, we would like to underline this passage in the Academic Unit Reviews Committee’s report:

The University would be well served by exploring how it can best marshal and realign resources to support programs of teaching and research that are more responsive to the changing nature of skills and knowledge demanded for citizenship and adaptive to the evolving demands for integrative research and problem solving in an increasingly complex and global world (p. 5).

Stewarding Excellence Report on GSLIS and Other Units Now Available - June 17, 2010

The University of Illinois committee charged with reviewing four academic units on campus, including GSLIS, has now issued its report. The Academic Unit Reviews can be found on the campus' Stewarding Excellence website. The University will be accepting public comment on this report until July 1, 2010.

This report is the culmination of work done by a selected committee charged with "exploring structural and organizational changes, including possible consolidations, to realize budgetary savings while at the same time preserving and even enhancing the intellectual and academic mission of the units." The College of Media, the School of Labor and Employment Relations, and the School of Social Work were evaluated alongside GSLIS. The committee's findings have been through the steering committee and the fact checking process and are now open for comment.

This Academic Unit Reviews project is one of seventeen projects that have been commissioned as part of Stewarding Excellence, the University's effort to identify cost savings in light of the budget crisis. A wide variety of programs and units are being reviewed on campus, from IT to Extension, from Development to academic units.

We encourage you to read the report and share your thoughts with campus. After the two-week period of public comment, Dean John Unsworth will provide a response to the report which will then be read and considered by campus leadership including the Council of Deans, Campus Advisory Committee, Senate Leadership, and others as appropriate. Finally, the report, and all subsequent commentary, will be considered by the Chancellor and the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs who will make decisions about next steps.

We value your participation in this process. If you have any concerns or questions, please email gslisdean [at] illinois [dot] edu.

Deans' Response to Efficiency Assessment of Small Campus Units - April 28, 2010

To:          Tom Ulen, Chair, Academic Unit Reviews Committee
From:      Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld, Walt Harrington, Wynne Korr, John Unsworth
Date:       April 28, 2010

At a recent Council of Deans meeting, Dick Wheeler presented data that, he argued, demonstrated that small units were inefficient, and he invited us to examine the data and respond. We understand he has also shared that data with your committee. Attached are two responses.  

The first is a relatively brief document that responds directly to Dick Wheeler’s data. Dr. Wheeler’s assessment used a one-year snapshot of campus that looked at administration measured in headcount, and then used that headcount as a denominator in a number of different ratios (with total expenditures, IUs, etc.). The response to this was put together by Eric Meyer in the College of Media, and has been reviewed by all four of us for accuracy. It argues that headcount is not the correct denominator to be using, and demonstrates the difference that it makes to consider FTE on state funds instead. Using FTE on state funds as the yardstick, there is no correlation between size and efficiency, in this one-year snapshot.  

The second is a more in-depth analysis of ten years of campus data, performed by Craig Olson in Labor and Employment Relations. It uses regression analysis to address the question of whether there is evidence to support the hypothesis that small units would be more efficient if they were merged or subsumed into something larger, and it does this by comparing the four units to eighteen social science units elsewhere on campus. This document covers a great deal more territory than either Wheeler’s assessment or Meyer’s response to it, not only in the time-span it covers, but also in the level of detail and the nuance of its analysis. It arrives at the conclusion that the four units are not uniform in their relation to the norm of efficiency (or mean cost/IU): Media and Social Work are more efficient than the norm, LER and GSLIS less. Again, this finding demonstrates a lack of correlation between size and efficiency. But Olson’s study also accounts for the differences, the most significant of which, in GSLIS, is attributable to the average class size.

We hope you’ll take the time to consider both of these reports and we ask that you share them with the outside consultants as well. We would also be happy to discuss them with you. All four of us are willing to engage on the issues, and we are willing to think about new ways of doing business, but we also feel it is critically important that our discussions and our decisions be based on a careful analysis of relevant data.

GSLIS Response to Academic Unit Reviews Committee - April 11, 2010

In its charge letter, the Academic Unit Reviews Committee for Stewarding Excellence posed a set of questions to each unit under review. List below are links to information presented by Dean Unsworth in response to these questions. Together they provide a comprehensive view of GSLIS relative to other campus units and highlight our distinguished history and promising future.

Response from Dean Unsworth to questions from the committee's charge letter

Supporting Documentation:

“Desperately Seeking Synergies” by Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard Business School, from When Giants Learn to Dance (1989)
Spreadsheet detailing various measures of productivity in select campus units

Academic Unit Reviews - March 10, 2010

At the link below, you will find the charge letter recently sent by the Office of the Chancellor for a Stewarding Excellence Project on Academic Unit Reviews. This is the project referenced in the News-Gazette story a couple of weeks ago, involving the four smallest colleges or schools, namely Labor and Employment Relations, Social Work, GSLIS, and Media. Lori Kendall is our faculty representative on this committee, which meets this week for the first time. As you will see from the letter, the committee will be asked to consider "structural and organizational changes, including possible consolidations, to realize budgetary savings while at the same time preserving and even enhancing the intellectual and academic missions of the units." On the other hand, the charge letter also says, "it is critical to emphasize that this review is a complete and open process that does not begin with a predetermined aim of withdrawing or reducing resources, concluding activities, or forcing new partnerships that would not likely succeed." As you can imagine, faculty, staff, and students at GSLIS are actively engaged in a variety of conversations about this project, and I have assured them that we can and should participate in its process with confidence in ourselves, our faculty colleagues on the committee, and our campus leadership. The report of the committee is due June 1, and I'm sure there will be an opportunities for input along the way, so please check here from time to time, and we'll let you know when and how to contribute. Also, as always, if you have concerns, ideas, or questions for me, you can send those to gslisdean [at] illinois [dot] edu.

Dean Unsworth's Response to News-Gazette Article - February 22, 2010

Date: Monday, February 22, 2010

To: All students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois

From: John Unsworth, Dean, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois

Anyone who saw today's News-Gazette will have noted two related front-page stories about smaller academic units being examined as part of Stewarding Excellence, the University’s process for examining all its operations for possible cost savings. The units specifically mentioned in that article were Social Work, Labor and Employment Relations, Media, and GSLIS; a PDF of the article is attached, since it’s not online at the News-Gazette yet. Naturally, the implications of these developments for GSLIS will be a matter of concern for all of you, so I’m writing to give you my perspective on the situation, and to let you know how you can keep up with what’s going on, if you choose to do so.

Stewarding Excellence has a well-defined process for identifying and exploring topics, and that process includes a campus steering committee, a campus advisory committee, and the Council of Deans. GSLIS Associate Dean Linda Smith serves on the first two committees, and I serve on the Council of Deans. Many things are up for discussion on this campus, as they must be under present circumstances, but there are no foregone conclusions with respect to our School. As discussions progress, you can be sure that we will be stewarding our excellence at GSLIS, and we’ll be keeping an eye on the values and traditions that make us who we are. One of those traditions, it should be noted, is that we have historically been treated well on this campus: though we are small, we have the confidence of the administration and of our colleagues. Now is a time when we can return that confidence by having open discussions and thinking broadly about possible futures. With respect to the future, I can assure you that campus administration understands that in any 21st century university, the study of information and preparation for information professions has to be a central academic enterprise.

So, we’ll enter into discussions as intellectual, strategic, and programmatic opportunities warrant, and we’ll report back to you, regularly, on how those discussions are going. When appropriate, you’ll find any major developments reported as news stories on our web site, but we’ll also set up a page on our site where you will be able to find a record of any memos like this one, or minutes of open meetings, or other pertinent documents. This web page does not require authentication to access, because we recognize that not all interested parties will have GSLIS logins, but for that reason, also, it won’t have commenting capabilities (since commenting without authentication is a recipe for spam). However, I invite you to send your thoughts to me, at gslisdean [at] illinois [dot] edu, and I’ll share those with people here, so that your ideas and perspectives are also part of our discussion. After all, our reputation and our ranking arise from you, and so will our future.