Chairman Christopher Kennedy said he hoped the action, following a prior change to halve the number of board committees, would signal to prospective presidential candidates that the board will be more hands-off.
Kennedy was re-elected today to chair the board for another year.
“We want to keep our board and any other subsequent boards from overreaching,” Kennedy said. “One way the board can overreach is by steering contracts … It is no way to run a large and complex organization.
“This is a great way to signal to the pool of candidates looking at this (president) job that this board has no intention of micromanaging.”
Under the new policy, board authorization will be required for professional contracts of at least $1 million a year, up from $100,000; purchases of supplies of at least $1 million, up from $200,000; capital projects of at least $5 million, up from $2 million; and construction contracts of $2.5 million, up from $500,000.
That means significantly fewer contracts will require board action. While 41 professional services contracts required approval during the last three years under the old policy, only eight would require it under the new one.
For construction contracts, of the 147 approved by the board in the last three years, only 30 would need it under the new limits.
Andy Shaw, executive director of the Better Government Association, criticized the change, calling it “the wrong message to send at the wrong time.”
“This is the school embarrassed and discredited by the (admissions) scandal. For at least the next year, when trying to repair their reputation, they should have more oversight rather than less. It is a mistake,” Shaw said.
“From the standpoint of good government and from the standpoint of a taxpaying resident of the state, I would be much more comfortable if these trustees were paying closer attention to the tax dollars.”
The new amounts are similar to those at other Big 10 universities, some of which require no board approval, according to a survey conducted by U. of I. But the U. of I. will now have higher thresholds that those at Illinois’ other public universities, based on an informal survey done by Southern Illinois University two years ago.
“This is not a time to worry about what the other Big 10 schools are doing. They are not Illinois. We need closer scrutiny because we have collectively lost the confidence of the public,” Shaw said.
Interim President Stan Ikenberry said the board won’t be abdicating its oversight because it still will be notified of contracts approved by the campuses.
The former board members, most of whom resigned last year, lowered the dollar amounts in 2005. For example, they reduced the amount needed for approval of professional services, such as legal and consulting work, from $250,000 to $100,000. The changes approved Thursday bring the amounts to levels higher than they were prior to 2005.
“The amount of things that were brought to the board was just too much,” said trustee Ed McMillan, one of three board members retained from the prior group.
“Previously, the board had less confidence in delegating to the decision makers at the university level.”
He said there still will be board control: “We will also have the opportunity, if we have any concern about a particular area, to challenge them.”
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