Board of Trustees holds winter meeting

By Simon Shifrin

The University Board of Trustees gathered downtown at the Gleacher Center for its two-day winter quarter meeting last Wednesday and Thursday. The event allowed trustees a chance to ask questions of a panel of five students, convene a wide range of committees, and address the most pressing issues that presently concern the University.

Several University projects and plans were solidified or brought to light in the committees, including a planned renovation of current Law School facilities and the addition of an emergency room to the plans for the Comer Children’s Hospital currently under construction.

“It’s not going to build a major addition but rather bring the current facilities into a more modern line,” said University President Don Randel of the future renovations to the Law School.

The financial health and future of the University was a dominant topic of discussion, even beyond the confines of the Financial Planning Committee. The overall judgment was positive on the status of the University’s Chicago Initiative, a five-year campaign to raise more than $2 billion.

“Essentially we are right on target,” Randel said. “The University is in very good fiscal health but we have to be minding the store on a continual basis.”

Randel projected a solid financial future for the University, at least for the near future.

“We will hope to add over $800 million to the endowment, a little over $700 million to expendable programs, and then over $400 million to capital projects,” Randel said.

Some other prominent financial issues addressed during the engagement were the rising cost of insurance and its effect on the health care that the University provides to its workers, compensation to University administrators, and potential structural changes to student financial aid.

“Mostly at this stage we are trying to reconcile what the competition will be, what our needs will be,” Randel said of plans to rethink the system of financial aid.

Current construction plans around campus were also stated to be generally running smoothly. Problems may arise, however, as a result of the timing of the city’s approval of further grants for the projects, according to Randel. As a result, delays may arise in the construction of the new campus for the Graduate School of Business as well as the Interdivisional Research Building.

Administrators noted that trustees were anxious to hear about the nature of student life on campus, as well as to speak directly to the five students who presented to the Committee on Student Life.

The committee, in particular, examined progress made since the report released in 1996 by the Task Force on the Quality of Student Experience, led by Susan Kidwell, professor in the Department of Geophysical Sciences.

“It was a great opportunity to take a step back and look at the Kidwell report and the kinds of recommendations it made and how far we’ve come,” said Bill Michel, assistant vice president for student life in the College. “Everybody was realistic about still having places to go.”

Michel noted that the University has made significant progress since 1996 in some of the report’s recommendations, such as creating a sense of campus life and preparing students for when they leave the University.

Randel pointed out that trustees were also pleased to hear that applications in the College had reached more than 9,000 for the first time with this year’s applicant pool, even while average SAT scores sustained an upward trend. Randel also emphasized that there was a notable increase in applications from blacks and Latinos, which he said the University must maintain.