New budget, buildings, business at UI trustees

Sep. 23—URBANA — The University of Illinois Board of Trustees held its first meeting of the new academic year at the Levis Faculty Center on campus in Urbana.

Here were the biggest actions, appointments and takeaways:

Bigger budget

Trustees approved a meatier operating budget for fiscal year 2023, delegating $7.65 billion to run the state's largest public university system.

The total is $470.7 million (6.6 percent) higher than fiscal year 2022.

"This budget provides some stability after two years of considerable uncertainty related to revenue and cost," UI system Chief Financial Officer Paul Ellinger told trustees.

The breakdown:

in general operating funds, which support the UI's academic enterprise.

Change from last year: +5.2 percent.

$2.535 billion in restricted funds for auxiliary units like housing, dining, parking, athletics, gift and endowment income, sponsored research, and other specified funds.

Change from last year: +6.8 percent.

$1.443 billion in "payments on behalf," or UI health and retirement benefits paid by the state.

Change from last year: +1.9 percent.

$1.047 billion in UI hospital funds.

Change from last year: +17.2 percent.

According to the UI's budget summary, "The increase in state appropriations, modest increases in tuition and fees, and revenues from housing, dining, and other student services are the major components of the overall increase."

On the Urbana-Champaign campus, room-and-board costs went up by 2 percent and student fees by 0.8 percent for incoming students in the 2021-'22 school year. A 1.8 percent tuition hike, delayed because of the pandemic, kicked in last year as well.

'The Project'

Coming (somewhat) soon to the southern part of campus: a new instructional facility and extra parking space to go with it, collectively referred to as "The Project."

Trustees gave the go-ahead for the UI to start work on the 100,000 square-foot South Campus Center for Interdisciplinary Learning, which will be built "to accommodate increased enrollment in online and residential programs at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and important programmatic and office space for the Gies College of Business," according to the resolution.

The building will fit between the existing Business Instructional Facility to the east and Huff Hall to the west, replacing the parking lot that exists there. Expectation completion: Late 2024.

Expected cost: $105 million.

Meanwhile, the E-15 parking facility will be built out of the southeast corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Fourth Street. It'll hold about 450 parking spaces, 130 more than the South Campus Center will displace. Expected completion: End of summer 2023.

Expected cost: $22.6 million.

Testing new waters

SHIELD T3, the university's operation that promotes and sells its saliva-based COVID-19 tests outside of Illinois, now has permission to explore commercial uses for its testing methodology beyond the coronavirus.

According to the proposal approved by trustees, SHIELD T3 may sell its tests for "wastewater epidemiology, home-based personal health testing, and other activities related thereto."

"We formed a science team to ask, 'What more could we be doing, and what more are we being asked to do by our customers?'" Discovery Partners Institute Director Bill Jackson said, at a trustees committee meeting Wednesday. "We've been asked to go broader than just COVID, so just on respiratory itself — we've been asked to do things like the flu and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) and expand the scope of our testing,"

The board of trustees is the sole member of SHIELD T3 LLC, formed in August 2020. Trustees are responsible for appointing SHIELD T3's board of managers and approving any changes to its scope.

"The current scope and purpose of Shield T3's research, development, and commercial activities will remain primarily focused on facilitating effective and efficient dissemination of the university-developed, saliva-based COVID-19 test methodologies," according to the item approved by trustees.

New faces

The two newest board members attended their first meeting Thursday: Sylvia Puente, president and CEO of the Latino Policy Forum, and Joseph Gutman, a retired financial executive, who attended virtually.

Two UI administrators also had their new titles made official Thursday. Bill Bernhard was confirmed by trustees as interim vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost designate on the Urbana-Champaign campus, while Paul Ellinger went from interim to permanent CFO, vice president and comptroller of the UI system.

Union appearance

Dozens of members of the Graduate Employees' Organization, the union for graduate and teaching assistants on the Urbana-Champaign campus, packed into the meeting to present their demands for a new contract.

What they asked for, in a document they asked trustees to sign in support: "An equitable workspace free of discrimination, a living wage, free year-round health care, and free public higher education."

Two graduate workers spoke during the public-comment portion of ht meeting, including Chelsea Birchmier, a doctoral student in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

"It is extremely hypocritical for the university administration to proclaim this commitment to equity on the one hand, and on the other hand, after six months of bargaining and an 8 to 9 percent inflation rate, refuse to offer UIUC GEO a full proposal instead of a take-it-or-leave-it package proposal," she said.

Union members let out a few chants on their way out of the Levis Center. Their next bargaining session with the UI is set for Sept. 27. Their contract expired Aug. 15.